U.S. auto sales weak as buyers look abroad


DETROIT - Autos sales at General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG fell more than forecast last month as U.S. buyers opted for cars made by Japanese and European rivals and consumers stepped back from the year's earlier buying spree, the companies reported yesterday.

Sales of North American-built cars and trucks fell 5.8 percent at GM and 3.1 percent at Ford. DaimlerChrysler, beset by an aging minivan lineup, said its sales excluding Mercedes-Benz fell 9.8 percent.

The results by the three biggest automakers in the United States pulled industrywide sales down an estimated 1.4 percent, even as Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG made gains.

Asian and European automakers have "competitively priced, attractive product" that's luring buyers, said David Garrity, an auto analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson.

Record gasoline prices, rising interest rates and stock market declines may be starting to take the wind out of a yearlong buying spree, analysts said. Even so, June's estimated annual selling rate of 17 million is in line with 1999's record sales of 16.96 million.

Toyota, the fourth-largest automaker in the United States, reported a 7.8 percent gain, while No. 5 Honda's sales rose 16 percent; it was the best June ever for both companies. Germany's Volkswagen said its sales rose 9 percent.

General Motors sold 459,994 North American-built cars and light trucks, a bigger decline than the 5.2 percent average analyst's forecast. Total sales including imports and large trucks fell 5 percent to 472,078. Total car sales fell 2.3 percent, while total truck sales slid 8.7 percent.

Car sales in June were hurt by declines at Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Cadillac divisions, even as General Motors offered low- or zero-percent financing on cars such as the Oldsmobile Alero.

Small cars are one of the biggest problems for GM. Its Chevrolet Cavalier sales fell 12 percent from a year ago, while its Saturn S-series wagon fell 45 percent.

Ford's June U.S. sales of North American-built cars and light trucks fell 3.1 percent to 401,680 vehicles, compared with the average analyst's forecast that sales would fall 2.3 percent. Total sales including Volvo, Jaguar and heavy trucks fell 2.6 percent to 419,932. Total car sales declined 5.5 percent while total truck sales slipped 0.3 percent.

DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler arm sold 215,597 cars and light trucks, missing forecasts that sales would fall 5.9 percent. Car sales fell 20 percent while sales of trucks, minivans and sport utilities declined 5.8 percent. Total sales including Mercedes-Benz fell about 8.6 percent to 233,516.

Sales of DaimlerChrysler's minivans, which won't be redesigned until later this quarter, fell 25 percent, even though discounts increased on some of the longer models. The vans must compete with newer models such as the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.

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