Auto sales in 2007 expected to be the worst in a decade

SAN FRANCISCO — SAN FRANCISCO -- Major automakers will close their books today on what is expected to be the worst year of car sales in almost a decade.

December's likely retreat has done little to inspire hope for a broad turnaround in the coming year, according to Goldman Sachs analyst Robert Barry, who predicted double-digit declines from a year ago for both General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.


Barry is looking for Ford Motor Co. to fare the best of the domestic competition, but only because December a year ago was so weak.

"Ford continues to contend with a weak product cadence and aggressive competitor discounts in the pickup segment," he said.


But the year-over-year declines weren't confined to the state of Michigan.

No manufacturer, not even Toyota Motor Corp., was immune to the harsh economic head winds that buffeted the industry through the end of the year.

Car-buying research Web site pegged Toyota to lead a retreat in results for the Japanese automakers with a 2.9 percent pullback in December.

Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motors are also expected to post lower sales. forecast that Ford and Chrysler will drop almost 7 percent in December versus a year ago, with General Motors down less than 1 percent.

Through November, Toyota sold 2.4 million cars and trucks in the U.S., a 3.2 percent increase from a year earlier, driven by strong demand for its fuel-efficient smaller car lineup, including the hybrid Prius and top-selling Camry.

GM has seen its vehicle sales drop 6.3 percent in the U.S., but it still holds a significant lead on its home turf at 3.54 million cars and trucks.

Ford, having already surrendered its runner-up spot, sold 2.36 million vehicles through 11 months, down 12.1 percent from 2006.


Toyota also is poised to put an end to GM's 70-plus year reign as the world's biggest automaker by the time the final global numbers are tallied.

Deutsche Bank AG analyst Rod A. Lache predicted automakers will post a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 16.1 million cars and trucks for the final month of the year, down from 16.6 million a year ago.

That would also bring the 2007 total to 16.1 million, the lowest total since 15.5 million vehicles were sold nine years ago.