Car sales end dismal year with late-Dec. increase


DETROIT (Reuters) -- Sales of U.S.-built autos revived with a 8.3 percent gain in late December, according to figures released yesterday, but the good news was not enough to rescue the industry from one of its most dismal years.

Auto sales for the year fell 3.1 percent on a daily-rate basis, and industry analysts blamed the economic slowdown for worsening the auto industry's problems.

"Problems in the economy deepened a recession already going on in car sales," said David Healy of Barclays de Zoette Wedd.

Truck sales continued their slide, falling 16.2 percent, to 112,755, in late December. For the year, domestic truck sales were at 4,139,922 units, down 5.4 percent on a daily-rate basis.

All of the Big Three U.S. carmakers showed late December gains. Chrysler Corp. sales were up 17.4 percent, General Motors Corp. 8.4 percent and Ford Motor Co. 0.7 percent.

But for the year, the U.S. producers saw their sales drop as sales of Japanese-made cars soared.

For all of 1990, Chrysler sales dipped 13.6 percent, Ford was down 10.7 percent and GM had a 4.5 percent loss.

Honda's sales for the year rose 18.8 percent, and Toyota sales surged 63.6 percent.

Industry experts say that if the economic slowdown worsens, automakers could slide into a morass not seen since the early 1980s.

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