DaimlerChrysler, Ford surpass sales expectations; Last month's activity projected to be best in industry since 1986


DETROIT -- DaimlerChrysler AG and Ford Motor Co. beat analysts' sales forecasts last month, benefiting from strong truck demand and heavy discounts as the auto industry's second-best U.S. sales year drew to a close.

Ford, the world's No. 2 automaker, said sales of domestic cars and light-trucks rose 6.1 percent, ahead of the 0.6 percent predicted. DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler sales rose 6.9 percent, surpassing the 5 percent forecast. General Motors Corp. said it will beat estimates when it posts sales today.

The automakers' results come as 1998 car and light-truck sales are expected to hit 15.5 million, second only to 16.05 million in 1986. The momentum was fueled by strong truck demand, gains in consumer purchasing power, and a year-end flurry of price discounts as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. raced for best-selling car honors.

"It was a combination of year-end incentives and underlying economic fundamentals," said Mike Luckey, president of the Luckey Consulting Group, which tracks the industry.

All manufacturers engaged in year-end closeouts, said Ron Zarrella, head of GM's North American auto operations. He said GM's December sales will be "even or up" from December 1997, beating analysts' estimates of a 4.6 decline.

Toyota is expected to post a 9.9 percent increase today, based on Luckey estimates. It was helped by discounts expected to make its Camry the top-selling U.S. car last year, outpacing Honda's Accord and Ford's Taurus for the second year in a row.

DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares rose $4.4375 to close at $106.125. GM jumped $3.75, to $74.625, and Ford added $1.75, to $59.50.

With GM's improved forecast, Luckey said last month's sales rate could hit an annualized pace of 17 million for only the second time since 1986.

DaimlerChrysler, the world's No. 5 automaker, said Monday that sales of its U.S. Mercedes-Benz arm rose 7.9 percent last month, to 15,788, a record for the month. The company said yesterday that its Chrysler car sales slipped 1.7 percent to 51,732, while pickups, minivans and sport-utility vehicles rose 10 percent to 151,593.

Ford's car sales rose 1.5 percent to 115,607 from the year-earlier period, and sales of minivans, sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks rose 11 percent. Total sales rose 6.1 percent to 323,417.

Volkswagen AG said its U.S. sales rose more than 50 percent last year to the highest total since 1981, boosted by the new Beetle.

Pub Date: 1/06/99

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