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Old 04-06-2007, 01:00 PM
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Arrow Prius powers Toyota to its best US month yet US automakers' sales ...

New-vehicle sales fell in March at the three domestic automakers, but Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. continued to outperform the industry and posted its best month ever in the U.S.

Toyota sold 242,675 vehicles, 12 percent more than a year ago, and showed strength on both the car and truck side of the business.

Passenger-car sales jumped 19 percent as the Prius hybrid more than doubled, to 19,156, and the Camry, the industry's best-selling car, rose 8 percent as gasoline prices climbed during March. Prius sales have soared 80 percent this year after Toyota boosted production capacity for the car in Japan.

"When the economy gets a little tighter and when fuel prices go up, there is a consumer attitude that says we should look at a Toyota," Senior Vice President Don Esmond said of Toyota's car sales.

Truck sales were up nearly 3 percent at Toyota, with the new Tundra pickup gaining momentum. The Tundra, introduced in February is Toyota's first true full-size pickup, sold 13,196 in March, 3,500 more than the previous month.

Toyota is still ramping up production of the Tundra, and sales are likely to rise as more versions of the popular crew-cab model ship to dealers this spring.

General Motors' sales fell 4 percent, to 345,418. GM blamed the decline on a planned reduction in low-profit sales to daily rental fleets. Saturn was the only one of GM's eight brands to increase in March, rising 27 percent, to 21,000.

Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. sales fell 9 percent in March, also due in part to lower sales to daily rental outlets, and the Chrysler Group was down 5 percent despite a heavily promoted national truck sale.

Chrysler, the U.S. unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, reported it sold 206,435 vehicles in March, 10,000 fewer than a year ago. The sales results came a day ahead of DaimlerChrysler's annual meeting in Berlin, where European shareholders and analysts are expected to press the company to sell Chrysler.

Chrysler lost $1.475 billion last year while all other DaimlerChrysler units were profitable. Chrysler's U.S. sales are down 4 percent this year, but the company's flagship Mercedes-Benz brand is up 9 percent and had record March sales.

DaimlerChrysler put Chrysler up for sale Feb. 14. Private-equity groups and Canadian-based supplier Magna International Inc. reportedly have bid for Chrysler, though details of offers are not scheduled to be disclosed at the annual meeting. One shareholder proposal on the agenda is to drop Chrysler from the company name.

In contrast to the declines at domestic automakers, American Honda's sales rose 11 percent and Nissan's were up 8 percent. Korean manufacturers Hyundai and Kia also posted increases.

Ford, which lost $12.7 billion last year, sold 263,436 vehicles in March, 26,000 fewer than a year ago. Most of the decline was because Ford has temporarily discontinued the Taurus sedan, which sold 20,000 units a year ago, all to fleet customers.

The F-Series pickup, Ford's traditional cash cow, fell 15 percent, to 71,481, but Ford sales analyst George Pipas said March was the best sales month for the F-Series last year, making it a tough comparison.

Ford cut F-Series production last summer after sales dropped, but Pipas said dealer inventories are lean and Ford could boost production in the second half.

"It's something we are assessing. Maybe we went too far in our production cuts of last year," Pipas said.

Source: [url=http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/local/chi-0704030536apr04,0,4703540.story?coll=sfla-business-headlines]Sun-Sentinel.com[/url]
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