DETROIT -- With Americans preoccupied with the festering economy, U.S. new-car sales suffered in February.
General Motors said sales for the month declined 12.9 percent to 268,737 vehicles. Toyota, Ford and Chrysler also posted noticeable declines while Honda and Nissan said its sales improved.
With all automakers reporting, total sales for February fell 6.3 percent to 1.17 million vehicles. Year-to-date sales are down 5.4 percent to 2.22 million vehicles.
February seemed to be a tough month overall for the industry, Mark LaNeve, GM vice president of sales, service and marketing, said in a conference call with analysts and journalists.
Traffic was soft, business was tough all month. And lack of [consumer] confidence came into play. We saw a lot of red numbers on the board. Toyota, Ford, all had a difficult month.
LaNeve said consumers are hesitating to make new-vehicle purchases because of the steady din of bad economic news. I personally believe that this discussion of a recession hurts consumer confidence, he said.
Toyota's tough month
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. posted a 2.8 percent sales decline in February, selling 182,169 vehicles during the month. When adjusted for the extra sales day of Feb. 29, Toyota, Lexus and Scion sales declined 6.6 percent. Toyotas one shining note was best-ever February sales for the Toyota Camry.
Although inventories are up from the end of January, sales volume, relatively speaking, is on par with where we were a year ago. Were still making good headway on the retail level, said Randy Pflughaupt, Toyota group vice president of marketing.
Toyota sees an industry seasonal adjusted annual selling rate of 15.3 million units for February, not counting heavy truck sales. However, Toyota continues to predict a flat 2008 overall, once tax cuts and lower consumer lending rates spur increased consumer spending in the second half of the year.
Among Toyota's disappointments was the Tundra pickup truck. Although up considerably from last Februarys selldown month, the 14,400 units sold in February were far below the 18,000 units Toyota needs to hit its 200,000 annual target this year. Surprisingly, however, the Tundra outsold the Tacoma compact pickup.
Pflughaupt said the full-size pickup and sport-utility segments could get tougher before it gets better. Toyota has about 40,000 Tundras in inventory, he said.
Despite gas prices inching toward $4 a gallon mark in some regions, even Toyotas fuel-efficient vehicles such as Prius, Corolla and RAV4 saw declines in February, although the subcompact Yaris and compact Scion xB showed improvements. Overall, Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicle sales declined by 7 percent.
On the Lexus brand side, every volume vehicle saw declines, including such stalwarts as the IS sedan series and the RX 350 sportwagon. Despite the decline, it was still the second-best February for Lexus.
Monthly sales figures, as reported by the Automotive News Data Center, are unadjusted for sales days. There were 25 sales days last month compared with 24 in February 2007.
Chrysler and Ford ills continue
Chrysler LLC sales dropped 14.0 percent in February. The lone bright spot for Detroits No. 3 automaker was that car sales actually rose 9 percent for the month. But truck sales still rule the roost at Chrysler, and they were off 22 percent in February.
Starting March 1, Chrysler launched a new round of incentives in March in an effort to reverse its fortunes.
Steven Landry, executive vice president of North American sales, said Chrysler is hopeful economists are right when they say the sluggish economy might turn a corner during the second half of the year or even sooner.
We know there will be an upside, he said. If it is March we want to be ready.
Landry said Chrysler cut sales to rental fleets again last month and said there would be double-digit declines every month for the rest of the year.
Ford Motor Co. -- despite some isolated bright spots -- posted a 6.7 percent drop in sales vs. a year ago. Ford Motor said Monday that its sales of 196,060 vehicles in February were lower in part because of a 20 percent reduction in deliveries to daily rental car fleets.
The biggest bright spot for Ford in the bad month: It regained the No. 2 spot in U.S. sales, topping Toyota in total monthly vehicle sales for the first time since June 2007.
Ford also had some star sales performances.
The restyled Ford Focus compact posted a 10.6 gain over last February, rising to 16,302 units from 14,737.
Sales of the Ford Edge crossover climbed 45.9 percent to 11,638. Lincoln, Ford Motors premium brand, saw a 2 percent sales gain for its vehicles.
But with sales of 52,548, the Ford F-150 truck line struggled, posting a 4.9 percent decline.
"What we're seeing today is undeniably the down side of a business cycle, said Emily Kolinski Morris, Ford's U.S. economist. We're taking a cautious approach to planning the business in this environment.
Honda, Nissan and Mazda post gains
American Honda Motor Co. posted a 4.9 percent gain for the month, improving sales to 115,397 vehicles.
Customers wanting to upsize their fuel efficiency without downsizing vehicle utility chose Fit, Pilot and CR-V in record numbers this month, Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda, said in a prepared statement.
Honda Divisions cars and light truck sales rose 1.9 percent to 102,313 units compared to last year. The Acura Division did not fair too well, falling 8.0 percent to 13,084 units from February 2007.
Nissan Motor Co. said sales increased 1.2 percent to 86,219 vehicles.
Nissan said the redesigned Murano crossover saw a record February, with sales of 10,074 units, in its first full month on sale. The new Rogue crossover continued to see solid sales, with 5,223 units sold. Among sedans, Versa, Altima and Maxima sales all increased while Sentra sales declined 15.4 percent.
Mazda Motor Corp. said it posted a 6.7 percent gain to 23,548 vehicles. Crossover sales, led by the CX-7 and CX-9, rose to 6,771 in the month, up 49.7 percent versus last February.
"The economic outlook remains in doubt, with increasing crude oil prices, continued consumer uncertainty and further concern in housing causing consumers to think twice before purchasing big-ticket items like a new car," Jim O'Sullivan, CEO of Mazda North America, said in a statement.
Mazda sales continue to buck the trend across the industry, though, with our focus on selling the right cars and SUVs at the right price, and through the right dealers."
Also reporting was Volkswagen brand, with sales up 1.2 percent over the year-ago month. VWs gain came on higher sales of the Rabbit, Eos and Jetta.
Mercedes-Benz brand posted its best February ever, selling 18,564 -- a 7.3 percent gain over the same month last year.
Suzuki sales increased 2.5 percent.
Philip Nussel, Bradford Wernle, Amy Wilson and Bernadine Williams contributed to this report