Automakers Dips and Creeps in April

By: Jenny Mclane

Last month was not a good month for most of the auto giants. The Big Three endured dips in sales and only the Chrysler Group enjoyed a little creep upwards. "April is shaping up as a particularly weak month for automotive sales," said Brian Johnson, an automotive analyst for the Lehman Brothers, in a note to investors last Friday.

GM sales down four percent
The General Motors Corp. reported 307,554 U.S. light vehicle sales in April, and that number is down by 9.5 percent from the sales of 339,796 during the same month the previous year. In addition, retail sales decreased by four percent, not adjusted for selling days, with truck sales down three percent and car sales at six percent.

The automaker said that about two-thirds of its sales decline was due to a planned reduction in less profitable daily rental sales. GM has slashed its daily rental sales by over 83,000 vehicles in the first four months of the year as it to shift from a focus on selling more vehicles than its competition to selling vehicles that come with hefty profits.

"I would say it's fair to assess the industry... to say it was a bit challenging for the month," said Paul Ballew, GM's chief market analyst. "The final numbers are not as severe as some observers were forecasting." Notwithstanding the cut in the overall April sales, GM executives said they continued to see strength in its newly launched vehicles, including the new GMC Acadia and the GMC Sierra and the Chevrolet Silverado pickups.

Jerry Seiner, famed as the GM Guy in Salt Lake City, said that sales were good in his market, but he readily acknowledged that his market is doing better than the nation right now. "We have some growth that might be assisting us in overcoming the market," he said. "We're going to be five to six percent up this year on GM sales." But he didn't think his fellow domestic dealers would see those kinds of gains. "You have uncertainty," he said. "It's uncertainty in the rest of the market."

Toyota sales dip four percent
Another auto giant to suffer a four percent dip in April is the Toyota Motor Corporation. Sales of the Japanese automaker fell to 210,457. By far, it is Toyota's first monthly decline in almost two years. For the first time since May 2005, Toyota sold fewer vehicles in the United States in a calendar month than it did a year earlier, spokesman Xavier Dominicis said.

The Camry and the Corolla, Toyota's stalwart sedans, both took hits as compared to the same month last year, and sales of the Camry, the top-selling car in the United States, dropped by six percent to 37,911 units sold. Sales of the Corolla, which increased in 2006 as the cost of gas climbed, fell by eleven percent to 32,289 units.

Scion, Toyota's small-car brand, also saw double-digit percentage declines for each of its three models. The all-new Tundra was a bright spot for Toyota with sales up 61 percent to 14,200 vehicles for the month.

Ford sales dive 13 percent
The Ford Motor Company's sales fell 13 percent in April as compared to the same month last year, and only two of the company's six brands, Lincoln and Land Rover, posted gains. For the year, Ford sales are now off by 13.2 percent.

"It was pretty consistently weak throughout the month," said George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, during a conference call with journalists. "The entire industry was very weak," Pipas added. "It kind of raises the question of what does the future hold."

Ford previously warned that sales were below expectations for the industry and the Dearborn-based automaker, which recently posted a $282-million loss for the first three months of the year. But he thinks Ford will maintain its 13% retail market share, nonetheless.

If only the could camouflage the industry's doldrums, recuperation could be had. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it sounds.

Chrysler sales creep two percent
The American arm of the DaimlerChrysler AG reported a two percent increase in sales for the month of April as compared to the same month last year. The Chrysler Group sold 193,104 vehicles last month compared to the 190,095 units sold in April 2006.

"Chrysler Group increased sales in April based on a solid retail performance - despite two less selling days than in the previous year and a challenging market environment," said Steven Landry, the executive vice president of NAFTA sales, global marketing, service and parts. "Driven by the continuously strong Jeep Wrangler and the new Jeep Patriot, sales for the Jeep brand were up significantly by 29 percent."

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