General Motors sales zigged while others zagged in October, rising 6.9 percent as the market overall slipped 1.5 percent.
The overall market last fell below the year-ago month in July. Despite the decline, light-vehicle sales still are expected to set a record of more than 17 million this year. For the first 10 months, sales were up 4.6 percent to 14.9 million.
Unusually, sales of both cars and light trucks were off in the month.
Buoyed by incentives, GM picked up 2.4 points of market share, to 30.3 percent, while its biggest rivals all lost sales and share. The last month GM topped its benchmark 30 percent market share was in February, when it captured 31.1 percent.
'Our well-managed and successful interest-rate incentive program contributed to the increase, as did our sales strength in key areas of the market such as full-size sport-utilities and midsize cars,' said Bill Lovejoy, GM's group vice president of North America vehicle sales, service and marketing.
Ford Motor Co. sales fell 6.4 percent in October and DaimlerChrysler was off 7.4 percent. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. dropped 5.7 percent; American Honda Motor Co. fell 5.6 percent; and Nissan North America Inc. fell 3.6 percent.
Even red-hot Volkswagen of America Inc. fell 3.8 percent in October, counting the Volkswagen, Audi, Rolls-Royce and Bentley brands. The company is still up 14.9 percent for the year to date, however.
GM rolled out some big-gun incentives in October, including zero-interest financing on several 2000 models and an Oldsmobile program that allows customers to delay all payments for the first year.
Oldsmobile sales gained 13.4 percent for the month. The Silhouette minivan, which was flat after 10 months, had a 93.2-percent sales gain in October. GM said it set a light-truck sales record for October, and GM said it is on track to set a record for light-truck sales for the full year.
Pontiac sales included 2,926 Azteks, a car-truck hybrid that has been criticized for its styling. The Aztek accounted for most of a 90.1 percent improvement in Pontiac light-truck sales, to 8,198 in October. Aztek sales in October were 45.6 percent ahead of September.
Since the first handful were sold in July, GM has sold 6,681 Azteks. That total does not include a fleet of Azteks that were made available for GM's Detroit-area executives to drive, said Paul Ballew, general director, global market and industry analysis.
GM discontinued its zero-percent-interest program, but will keep other incentives coming, including on full-sized pickups. Responding to high incentives on Dodge and Ford pickups, GM announced Nov. 1 that it will offer up to $1,000 cash back or 1.9 percent financing on some 2000 and 2001 full-sized pickups.
Rival Ford Motor Co. had several well-publicized problems in October:
Faulty airbag modules held back more than 40,000 Windstar minivans and Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis.
The discontinued Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique made Ford's year-ago comparison worse.
The Firestone tire recall cut into sales of the Ford Explorer. Explorer sales fell 16.4 percent for the month. George Pipas, Ford's sales analysis and reporting manager, said some buyers may be waiting for a redesigned Explorer, due early next year for the 2002 model year.
But he acknowledged that some Explorer customers are refusing delivery until dealers change tires to another brand.
Tom Barton, who owns Beach Ford in Virginia Beach, Va., and Barton Ford Lincoln Mercury in Suffolk, Va., said that his crews swapped 3,688 tires for 783 customers from August through October and inspected another 414 sets of tires that did not need to be changed. Tim Stanley, general manager of Doug Stanley Ford in DeSoto, Texas, said his employees changed around 500 sets of tires. He said few customers have refused Firestones.
'Consumers come in, armed with publications that say they have the right to have the tires changed before taking delivery,' he said.
'But ever since this started in August, we've really only had a couple of people who switched out of Firestones. One was buying a different size tire anyway, and they said, 'While we're at it, not Firestones.' Only one simply didn't want Firestones, period.'
The recall, he said, has generated goodwill. 'Every single Explorer customer I've put tires on has been s-o-o-o happy,' he said.
Nick Lobaccaro, auto industry analyst for Lehman Brothers Inc. in New York, said he expects the worst is over for Ford in the Firestone uproar. The company said earlier that it expects the recall to be complete this month.c
Staff Reporter Joe Miller contributed to this report