Amid all the hand-wringing over a late-year sales slump, one trend stands out: It's a selective slump, and it's hitting the biggest automakers the hardest.
Sales at the all tumbled in November. With automakers representing about 97 percent of U.S. sales reporting their results by late afternoon on Friday, Dec. 1, General Motors had taken the biggest hit of the Big 3, down 8.1 percent from November 1999 levels. Ford Motor Co. was off 7.3 percent, and DaimlerChrysler sales dropped 5.2 percent.
DaimlerChrysler and Ford said they would cut output to keep inventories in line with demand.
But it was a different story elsewhere. The three biggest Japanese automakers - Toyota, Nissan and Honda - each posted sales gains in November. German automaker Volkswagen saw its November sales rise 8.9 percent. And some smaller companies, such as BMW and Hyundai, posted increases in the 30 percent range.
PAYBACK FOR GM
Despite November's fall, GM clung to a sales improvement of 0.6 percent for the 11 months so far this year. In mid-sized cars and mid-sized sport-utilities, GM suffered some payback for higher sales in October, said Paul Ballew, GM's general director of global market and industry analysis.
Ballew said GM continues to expect overall industry sales to slow somewhat in 2001, but he said GM still expects 2001 to be the third-best year. Last year's U.S. sales were a record 16,958,267 light vehicles. The previous record was 16 million in 1986.
'Over the last five to six months, it's pretty clear as you analyze the data that there is some moderation,' Ballew said.
He said that the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate in the second half has been 17.2 million; in the first half, it was 18-plus million.
DaimlerChrysler's 5.2 percent dip excluded Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. DaimlerChrysler said car sales dropped 15 percent to 45,959; minivan sales fell 16 percent to 28,902.
'The industry is dealing with a highly competitive, saturated marketplace today,' said Dieter Zetsche, the new CEO of the Chrysler group, DaimlerChrysler's U.S. operation.
'The combination of a softening market and an excess of inventory requires immediate action,' Zetsche said. Accordingly, the company announced it will close some of its 12 U.S. and Canadian assembly plants for staggered weeks of extra vacation this month.
Ford also announced production cuts. It said it plans to produce 1,072,000 vehicles in North America in the fourth quarter, a reduction of 19,000 cars and 19,000 light trucks from the production plan it announced a month ago.
Ford's 7.3 percent decline in November included sales of the Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Jaguar, Volvo and Land Rover brands.
BMW, meanwhile, reported U.S. sales of 17,551 vehicles in November, up 30.8 percent.
Volkswagen of America Inc. said the VW brand had its best November sales in 27 years, at 26,597, up 8.7 percent.
Among Japanese makers, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. said its sales rose 3.5 percent. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc was up 4.6 percent in November, and Nissan North America Inc. sales rose 4.3 percent.