November Car Sales Plummet, and Not Only for Detroit

Foreign Carmakers Also Slammed as Consumers React to Bankruptcy Rumors

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DETROIT ( -- This was the worst November in 50 years for the auto industry, with virtually every automaker -- not just Ford, GM and Chrysler but also Toyota, Honda and Hyundai -- dinged by a unit-sales slide exceeding 30%. Officials at GM and Ford blamed the plunge on congressional hearings in which Detroit has been asking for the government for a bailout, saying the specter of bankruptcy is spooking consumers already rattled by the housing crisis and credit crunch.

General Motor Corp.'s November sales plunged 41% to 154,877 units vs. the same month in 2007. The automaker did no vehicle leasing in the month, GM's Mark LaNeve, VP-vehicle sales, service and marketing in North America, said in a conference call with analysts today.

Ford Motor Co. reported November sales of 118,818, or 30% lower than November 2007, but said it actually gained market share due to sales of its F-Series pickup while total industry sales slowed. Chrysler sales, meanwhile, plummeted 47% to 85,260 units.

GM, along with Ford and Chrysler, are all angling for federal funds after having been slammed by a dismal economy, credit freeze and imploding housing market.

But misery loves company and Detroit had plenty. American Honda Motor Co.'s monthly sales dropped to 76,233, a 31.6% decline. Hyundai Motor America's reported sales of 19,221 for November, skidding 40% from November 2007 levels. Even Toyota Motor Sales USA wasn't saved by zero: It reported a 33.9% falloff in its Toyota, Scion and Lexus sales in the month to 130,307 vehicles, despite a barrage of ads pushing its no-interest payment plan.

To unload existing inventory, GM will change the creative for its current "Red Tag" year-end clearance sale to tout the company's progress in areas such as fuel economy, quality and performance, Mr. LaNeve said. The auto giant will also give dealers more cash so they can put more aggressive deals together for buyers. Americans' misperceptions about GM are a "monumental challenge," which the automaker expects to address in a new, undetermined ad campaign after the hearings in Washington, probably early next year, Mr. LaNeve said.

November started out strong, but by mid-month there was a "noticeable slowdown" in sales that coincided with Detroit's first unsuccessful round of congressional hearings, said Ford's Jim Farley, group VP-marketing and communications in a conference call today.

Mr. LaNeve cited findings by consultant CNW Market Research that 25% to 30% of Americans avoided Detroit showrooms last month because of all the media reports speculating about bankruptcy for one or all of them. "I have no reason to doubt that figure and it might even be higher."

He said Nissan North America's sales slid by 42% in November despite a "huge media blitz" offering zero-percent financing and lease deals.
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