MEXICO CITY - Mexico's automakers had been expecting a poor showing in February sales. But the 13.3 percent dip in business was not as bad as many had expected.
The market saw car and truck sales of 42,270 units in February, down from 48,756 sales in February 1998. So far this year, sales are off about 8 percent from last year.
Because some observers had forecast an even worse February, the dip spurred new confidence.
'We still think that sales could be not just the same, but up 5 percent or more' for the year, said Troy Clarke, president of GM de Mexico.
The Mexican auto dealers association has been forecasting that demand will be weak for the first and third trimesters of the year. But at the association's annual national convention last week, a spokesman said dealers still expect the market to end the year about 3 percent ahead of 1998.
Consumer financing - a relatively new key to selling cars in Mexico - is being pushed aggressively by almost all brands. Several companies are offering zero-percent financing for 24 months.
But the appeals have not been enough to buoy the market. Mexico's five biggest automakers - DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen - reported declines in February. Only GM escaped with a single-digit decline: 5.7 percent. The others posted double-digit setbacks, including a 25.4 percent slide at Ford.
Two smaller brands - Honda and BMW - both saw sales increases for the month.
Subcompact cars fared best. Sales of GM's Chevy Joy and Swing models rose 2.6 percent, accounting for one of the few gains among big-volume cars in the industry.
Falling sales of its Neon and Stratus accounted for the biggest part of DaimlerChrysler's February setback. The Stratus lost 583 sales compared with February 1998, and the Neon lost 488.
With the domestic market slumping, export output has been increasing. Export-directed factory production increased nearly 17 percent for the month. So far this year, exports are up 21 percent from a year ago. Car exports were up more than 11,000 units, or 25 percent, for February.