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U.S. car, truck sales show signs of stabilizing

DETROIT — U.S. car and truck sales showed signs of stabilizing in June after a year of sharp declines, but every major automaker except Honda Motor Co. reported lower sales than in May.

Still, year-over-year declines last month slowed for four of the six major carmakers, with Ford Motor Co. reporting the smallest drop in a year at 10.7 percent when compared with June of 2008.

"It is unlikely things will get any worse," said Jesse Toprak, executive director of industry analysis for the auto Web site Edmunds.com.

Factors such as a slowly improving economy and government incentives of up to $4,500 to trade in inefficient clunkers for new vehicles could lead to modest improvements in the second half of the year, he said.

June sales for Chrysler, which emerged from bankruptcy protection early in June, were off 42 percent. Though dismal, the figures were roughly in line with analyst estimates and reflect a company that is in a major transition following bankruptcy protection and new focus on more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Chrysler sold only 68,297 cars and trucks last month as it emerged from bankruptcy protection, and many of those were due to strong incentives of more than $4,800 per car, according to Edmunds.

Ford sold 154,873 cars and light trucks last month, with strength in its midsized Fusion and the Flex crossover vehicle, down from 161,197 in May.

In anticipation of increased traffic at dealers and higher sales later in the year, Ford announced Monday that it would boost its third-quarter production by 25,000 vehicles.

"We're making steady progress," Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of marketing, said in a statement. "We remain grounded, however, given challenging industry and economic conditions."

General Motors Corp.'s sales slid 33.4 percent despite incentives and discounts on its Pontiac brand, while Toyota Motor Corp. sales were off 32 percent. Honda Motor Co. saw a 30 percent decline because of extremely strong small-car sales in June 2008, when gasoline was above $4 per gallon. Nissan Motor Co. reported a narrower decline than in previous months, down only 23 percent.

GM's decline improved when compared with previous months even though it entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 1.

Analysts predict that June sales, adjusted for seasonal variances and multiplied to determine an annual rate, could top the 10 million mark for the first time this year. During several months earlier in 2009, U.S. car and truck sales dropped to a rate of about 9 million vehicles, a huge reduction from more than 16 million as recently as 2007.

Toyota's top-selling Camry midsize sedan saw sales fall 37 percent while Corolla compact sales plunged 53 percent.

One bright spot for Toyota was its recently released third-generation Prius, which saw sales rise 10 percent. Prius sales had suffered in recent months as gas prices plunged from more than $4 per gallon last summer to below $2 a gallon in the winter.

Ford's surprisingly low decline came after a string of months in which it and other automakers reported year-over-year drops of more than 40 percent. Ford's sales were down 24 percent in May and off 37 percent for the first five months of the year.

U.S. car, truck sales show signs of stabilizing 07/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 9:41pm]
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