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Auto sales up in January, with one notable exception

DETROIT — Toyota's auto sales fell 16 percent in January, a month in which it recalled millions of vehicles and halted sales of several models. Most other automakers reported higher sales and looked for opportunities to snatch sales from the troubled Japanese automaker.

Automakers expected sales to improve over January 2009, when they dipped to a 26-year low due to the tough economy.

General Motors said its January sales rose 14 percent because of higher fleet and crossover vehicle sales. Crossovers are SUV-like in size but sit on a car instead of a truck frame. Ford Motor Co., meanwhile, saw sales rise 25 percent on higher fleet sales, while Nissan's rose 16 percent, thanks to higher demand for sedans like the Versa, Sentra and Maxima. Hyundai's sales rose 24 percent as sales of the newly redesigned Tucson sport utility vehicle doubled.

Chrysler fell 8 percent on declining sales of Ram trucks and Jeeps, while Honda's sales slipped 5 percent on weaker SUV and crossover demand.

Toyota said on Jan. 26 it would suspend sales of the Camry sedan, its top-selling vehicle, and seven other cars and trucks following a recall over sticky accelerator pedals that could cause sudden acceleration.

"There is no doubt that the stop sale, which was put in place last week, impacted our sales," said Bob Carter, Toyota's group vice president and general manager.

Car-buying Web site Edmunds.com predicted Toyota's U.S. market share would drop to 14.7 percent in January, its lowest level since March 2006.

Showing how quickly the newer, leaner GM can react, it offered zero percent financing and other incentives to Toyota drivers last week. Ford also offered incentives to Toyota drivers who trade in vehicles.

"This was an opportunity to help customers who are truly concerned about their personal safety," she said.

George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said he did not see evidence that Ford was taking buyers from Toyota. Pipas said much of Ford's sales increase came from a jump in sales to rental car companies, governments and other large fleet buyers. Ford said fleet sales jumped more than 150 percent over January 2009, an indication that the credit crunch was lifting and businesses could spend on fleets again.

Throttle inquiry

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating whether a malfunction in the electronic throttle system might be causing sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles, as alleged in at least seven lawsuits. The agency is trying to determine if electromagnetic interference is an issue. Toyota has ruled out electronics as a cause and has begun shipping steel shims to dealers as a fix for sticky gas pedals that have caused the world's largest automaker to recall about 2.57 million vehicles in the United States and Canada.

Bloomberg News

Auto sales up in January, with one notable exception 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 8:59pm]

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