3rd quarter brings losses to Big 3; 4th looks glum

DaimlerChrysler reported worldwide net income of $821 million on Tuesday, Oct. 23, including a one-time gain on its aerospace business. Excluding one-time factors, DaimlerChrysler had a third-quarter profit of $258 million, 13.4 percent behind the year-ago quarter.

Mercedes-Benz cars and Smart carried the ball for the corporation in the quarter, with an operating profit of $734 million, down 1 percent.

But in North America, the Chrysler group had an operating loss of $243 million. That was an improvement over a year-ago operating loss of $526.8 million. The 2001 loss works out to an operating loss of about $414 per vehicle shipped to dealers, compared with an operating loss of about $846 each, a year ago.

Ford moved in the other direction in the third quarter. Ford automotive operations, including all Ford-owned brands, had a net loss of $849 million in the quarter in North America, excluding one-time items.

That implies a loss of about $91 per vehicle wholesale, compared with a year-ago net profit of about $708 each. U.S. retail sales for all Ford-owned brands fell 11.1 percent in the quarter, to 922,157.

General Motors’ North American automotive operations had a net profit of $445 million, excluding one-time items that included closing its plant in Ste. Therese, Quebec.

That implies a profit of about $360 per vehicle wholesale, down 34.4 percent from a year ago. GM’s retail unit sales fell 7.8 percent to 1,144,709 in the quarter.

U.S. retail sales for the Chrysler group fell 20.1 percent to 502,318 in the quarter, the biggest drop among the Big 3. In September, DaimlerChrysler’s U.S. market share was off 3.1 percentage points, to 13 percent of light-vehicle sales.

DaimlerChrysler CFO Manfred Gentz said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts that the Chrysler group would sacrifice market share for profits, even if it meant Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. were to overtake the Chrysler group as the No. 3 U.S. marketer. That won’t happen soon. Toyota Motor, including Toyota Division and Lexus, had a 9.4 percent share in September.

“We are not aiming at volume; we are aiming at higher results and profitability,” Gentz said. “We are not happy if we are overtaken by Toyota, but if we achieve higher profitability, I think we could bear to lose the third position in the United States.”

The Chrysler group is ahead of schedule on its turnaround plan because lower material costs and factory costs have outstripped the drop in sales volume, Gentz said. On the other hand, DaimlerChrysler has not stepped up the timetable for the turnaround plan. Gentz still expects the Chrysler group to meet its full-year 2001 forecast of an operating loss, excluding one-time items, of about $2.2 billion. He said the Chrysler group hopes to make a small operating profit next year, but the outlook is highly uncertain.

Gentz said DaimlerChrysler’s immediate plans do not include following GM’s lead in extending 0 interest incentives, even though he insisted at the same time that the Chrysler group canceled enough other incentives to pay for nearly all of the cost of 0 percent interest loans.

“We are going more for profitability than for volume,” he said.

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com

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