FEBRUARY A CRUEL MONTH FOR GM, FORD

Overall Vehicle Sales Down as Rivals Report Record Increases

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- February was a rough month for Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., which saw auto sales drop during the month while rivals American Honda Motor Co., Nissan North America, Toyota Motor Corp., Mercedes-Benz USA and Volkswagen of America reported gains.

Combined sales of the Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover brands slid 4% for the month, to 244,021 units compared with the same period a year ago. Land Rover was the only one of its brands to report an increase; in fact, it posted a February sales record of 3,453 units, 28% higher than the year-ago period. Ford division’s sales dipped by 1.6% to 204,846 units, though sales of its popular F-Series pickups rose by 6% to 62,862 units.

Good news for midsized sedans
Sales for Lincoln and Mercury were both off 14%; Jaguar’s sales last month fell 43% and Volvo’s 19%. But the automaker said Ford, Lincoln and Mercury car sales rose for the second consecutive month on the continued strength of all-new, midsized sedans -- the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr tallied combined sales of 13,388 units in February.

Ford also announced plans to cut back production.

GM said overall U.S. vehicle sales slipped 2.5% in February to 301,545 units; car sales dropped 13%, but, like Ford, truck sales increased 5%. The automaker said the sales total is deceiving since it lowered fleet deliveries to car rental outfits and businesses by 11% in February compared with a year ago, and that its consumer retail vehicle sales rose 1% for the month. Luxury car retail sales increased 25%.

Six GM brands do well
GM said six brands (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Hummer, Pontiac and Saab) posted retail sales gains vs. February 2005. Redone or all-new models are selling well, including the Buick Lucerne sedan, the redone Chevrolet Tahoe sport utility vehicle and the Chevrolet HHR tall wagon. Sales of the redone 2007-model Cadillac Escalade, launched with a glitzy Super Bowl commercial, are brisk, taking four days to sell after arriving at dealerships, said GM’s Paul Ballew, exec director of global market and industry analysis. “It means they are selling as they are coming off the trucks.”

Speaking on a conference call this afternoon, Mr. Ballew admitted that GM will “continue to struggle” with market share -- with 23.5% of the market as of February -- as it backs away from fleet sales. “You take your medicine and you go on.”

He said GM “seems to be getting some traction” from its new advertising focus on quality and products that started in January as part of what it called a permanent re-pricing strategy. GM’s average transaction price rose by 4% in February; its incentive spending “was down significantly,” he said.

Monthly record for Toyota, Honda
Toyota, meanwhile, reported its best-ever February, selling 166,940 Lexus, Toyota and Scion vehicles, 2.4% higher than the same month in 2005. The Toyota division sold 145,813 units, up 1.7%, while Lexus sold a February record of 21,127 vehicles, 7% more than a year ago.

American Honda Motor Co.’s combined February Honda and Acura sales jumped nearly 9% to 106,644 units, setting a new record for the month. Honda division said its sales climbed 12.8% to 92,498 units.

Mercedes-Benz USA reported its best February with sales of 17,356 vehicles, some 28% higher than a year ago. The unit of Germany’s DaimlerChrysler credited the sales increase to the launch of the newest-generation S-Class sedan, with sales of 3,360 units or 226% more than a year ago; and a 128% jump for its M-Class SUV to 2,155 units.

Chrysler Group up 3%
Sibling Chrysler Group reported February sales up 3% to 190,367 units. Porsche Cars North America posted a 20% jump over last February with sales of 2,700 vehicles.

Volkswagen of America said VW brand February sales of 16,329 units marked a 21% leap from the year-ago month, representing its best February since 2003.

Nissan North America said Nissan brand sales increased 3.3% in February to 72,625 units vs. a year ago, though Infiniti sales of 9,244 units last month represented a 6.5% decline from a year ago.

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