Automakers post double-digit sales drops in March

Associated Press / April 2, 2009
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DETROIT - March proved to be another dismal month of steep declines for US auto sales as low consumer confidence and job uncertainty continued to keep buyers away from showrooms, but the improvement from February signaled that bargain hunters may be providing the momentum for a turnaround.

General Motors Corp.'s sales fell 45 percent from a year earlier, while Ford Motor Co. reported a 41 percent drop. Sales at Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan were barely better than that.

Despite the declines from a year ago, GM, Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota all posted double-digit improvements from February, when industrywide US sales hit their lowest point in more than 27 years.

Sales are generally better in March as warmer temperatures help drive people to showrooms, but GM said its figures show overall US sales increased about 23 percent from February's figures, beating the typical 20 percent increase and giving rise to optimism that the worst may be over.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, said the market appears to be "bouncing around the bottom."

Automakers' incentive spending last month reached a record high, according to the auto website

The average incentive on vehicles sold last month was $3,169, up 30 percent from a year earlier. GM and Hyundai Motor Co. spent more on incentives than they ever have, Edmunds said. Ford said its incentive spending was the same as a year ago.

"Where we are starting to differentiate from our competitors is in the incentive area," said Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president for marketing. "We're getting more traffic. We don't have to close everyone with incentives."

In a further effort to boost sales, Ford and GM on Tuesday revealed programs that would cover buyers' monthly car payments in the event they lose their jobs. That follows a similar program Hyundai Motor Co. rolled out this year.

With credit starting to loosen, including aggressive moves by GM's financial arm, the industry might have the worst behind it, DiGiovanni said.

Detroit-based GM sold a total of 155,334 light vehicles, while Ford's total of 131,102 was just 1,700 shy of Toyota's total.

Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler LLC sold 101,001 units, marking its first month above the 100,000-unit mark since September.