DETROIT -- Automakers ended the year with some surprisingly good -- and bad -- sales, capping a year that on the whole failed to live up to the industry's high initial expectations.
General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. both beat analysts' projections for December with solid sales gains over December 1994. Ford Motor Co., however, posted disappointing sales, especially of its restyled Taurus.
Overall, U.S. vehicle sales slipped 3.2 percent for December and 2 percent for the year, reflecting an economy characterized by wary consumers and that is running out of steam.
"It's a lukewarm expansion that is continuing to stagger ahead," said Paul Ballew, chief economist with J.D. Power and Associates.
While some of the Japanese manufacturers still haven't reported their December sales, the industry hit an annual sales pace of 15.1 million vehicles in the month, down from the blockbuster 15.6 million rate of a year ago.
For the full year, automakers sold 14.8 million cars and light trucks, compared with 15.1 million in 1994.
Passenger car sales in the year totaled 8.64 million, down 3.3 percent from 1994. Light truck sales totaled 6.13 million, up 1.2 percent, according to Autodata Corp., a Woodcliff Lake, N.J., consulting firm.
General Motors' market share fell 0.4 percentage points to 32.8 percent in 1995, according to Autodata, while Ford's market share rose 0.4 points to 25.7 percent and Chrysler's edged up 0.1 points to 14.7 percent.
Asian automakers saw their share slip 0.5 points to 23.7 percent. European automakers as a group posted a gain in share in 1995.
Consumer demand in many sectors of the economy appears to be in the same doldrums experienced by retailers wooing Christmas shoppers worried about high credit card bills and job security. Retail sales rose a slim 1.7 percent in December in stores open at least a year.
And just as department stores slashed prices at year-end sales, automakers offered big cash rebates on some cars to entice buyers into dealerships.
"The last week of December was a great week," said Georges Daaboul, sales manager at Bud Davis Cadillac in Memphis, Tenn., where last month buyers could get $2,000 off the price of a new El Dorado or Fleetwood luxury car.
GM's sales rose 6.6 percent in December compared with a year ago. The Detroit-based automaker's car sales rose 2.7 percent to 217,469, while sales of trucks, minivans and sports utility vehicles rose 12 percent to 184,383. The company's sales for the year fell 3.3 percent
"We did very well on cars, considering the market shifted away from luxury cars," said G. Richard Wagoner Jr., president of GM's North American operations.
Ford shocked analysts with a 9.2 percent drop in U.S. sales in December and further evidence that the launch of its new Taurus is floundering.
Ford's car sales plunged 19 percent to 125,890 in December compared with the year-ago period. Light-truck sales totaled 144,573, up 1.9 percent. For the year, Ford sales were flat.
Chrysler surprised industry followers with a 10 percent jump in U.S. sales in December.
Analysts had been expecting a 6 percent increase over a year ago.
Car sales totaled 55,335, down 9 percent from December last year.
For the year, Chrysler sold 2.16 million vehicles, down 1 percent.
15 top sellers
0 Model ...... .. ... .. .No. sold . 1994 rank
1. Ford F-series pickup ... 691,452 .. 1
Chev. C-K pickup ....... 513,081 .. 2
Ford Explorer .......... 395,227 .. 9
4. Ford Taurus ............ 366,266 .. 3
5. Honda Accord ........... 341,384 .. 4
6. Toyota Camry ........... 328,600 .. 7
7. Ford Ranger pickup ..... 309,085 .. 5
Honda Civic ............ 289,435 .. 11
9. Saturn ................. 285,674 .. 8
10. Ford Escort ........... 285,570 .. 6
11. Dodge Ram pickup ...... 271,501 .. 14
Dodge Caravan ......... 267,020 .. 10
13. Jeep Grd Cherokee ..... 252,186 .. 13
Dodge-Ply. Neon ....... 240,189 .. 18
15. Pontiac Grand Am ...... 234,226 .. 12
Source: Company reports.