Auto sales down across the board

Weak economy results in worse-than-expected figures for the major companies.

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NEW YORK ( -- U.S. auto sales fell in February, as worse-than-expected reports issued by carmakers Monday showed continuing weakness in the face of a troubled economy.

In anticipation of further sales declines, both Ford Motor Co. and General Motors said they plan to cut second-quarter production - Ford by 10% and GM by 5%. First-quarter manufacturing will remain unchanged.

"We're in a recession, at least as far as car sales are concerned," said analyst David Healy of Burnham Securities. "You can blame it on the state of the economy, not on any particular automaker."

Automobile sales from domestic carmakers, fell 11% in February compared with a year ago, according to sales tracker Autodata, but they managed to hold on to 51.2% of the market compared to foreign manufacturers.

American automakers took the biggest sales hits in February.

General Motors, the world's largest automaker, saw a 12.9% drop in the sales of cars and light trucks in February, worse than's predicted decline of 9.5%. The February numbers were unadjusted for the extra day this year.

GM blamed the percentage drop on unusually strong sales in February 2007, when there was a 3.7% increase.

"If it hadn't been such a tough comparison, the decline would've been more in-line with the industry," said Healy.

GM reported strong sales of its fuel-efficient models. Sales of the Chevrolet Cobalt were up 56%, and sales of the Pontiac G6 were up 50%.

Sales of light GM (GM, Fortune 500) trucks fell 19.2%.

Ford said total vehicle sales fell 6.9% compared to a year earlier, with about 60% of the declines coming from sales to rental companies. predicted a decline of about 6.7%.

The company reported a 36% increase in sales of its re-designed Ford Focus cars, aimed at younger consumers. Buyers in the 16-to-35 age group made up 32% of Focus sales.

Crossover SUV sales grew 10% as traditional SUV sales fell 22%.

Overall Ford (F, Fortune 500) truck sales fell 5.6%.

Chrysler reported a sales decline of 14% as it cut back on sales to rental companies, missing the prediction of a 6.7% decline. Total car sales rose 8.6%, but were unable to offset a 22.4% decline in truck sales.

Sales of Asian and European brands were both lower in February, according to Autodata, with Toyota Motor Co., the number one foreign automaker posting the sharpest decline.

Toyota reported a sales decline of 2.8% over the previous year, with the largest decline coming from its Lexus division. had expected Toyota's sales to grow 7.9%.

Sales of the Prius hybrid fell 10.9%.

Sales of Toyota's (TM) light trucks fell 0.8% overall, but the company's Tundra full-size pickup reported a sales jump of 48.9%.

Honda Motor Co. (HMC) showed sales growth. They were up 4.9%, still below the forecast of 7.4%.

Overall, automobile industry sales fell 6.3% in February, according to Autodata. To top of page

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