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Auto Industry Encouraged by Latest Sales Figures

June 02, 1995|From Associated Press

DETROIT — Most major auto makers' U.S. sales in May lagged behind comparable 1994 levels, but reports released Thursday suggested they might be starting to pull out of a buyer slowdown that's dogged the industry all year.

Chrysler Corp. sold more cars and light trucks last month than it had in any previous May. But measured by the rate of daily sales, its performance was down 3% from a year ago.

"In the face of the uncertain selling climate we've had so far this spring, May was a terrific month," Theodor Cunningham, executive vice president for sales and marketing, said in Chrysler's sales report. "Spring came a little late this year, but it seems to have finally arrived."

Chrysler's truck sales--vans, pickups and sport-utility vehicles--also set a May record for total units. On a daily sales rate basis, its truck sales were up 0.9% from a year ago.

The industry giant, General Motors Corp., said May sales were off 5.7% from a year ago. Spokesman Tom Klipstine said a combination of factors were to blame. Prime among them was the company's inability to build enough sport-utility vehicles and full-size pickup trucks to satisfy demand. He also attributed the weakness to an intentional decline in fleet sales, or sales to large rental agencies and commercial customers.

Toyota reported May sales 9.1% higher than last year. The largest Japan-based auto maker, Toyota's U.S. sales have shown improvement all year.

There was speculation that the U.S. threat of punitive tariffs on Japanese luxury cars might cause their sales to spurt as buyers moved up their plans to avoid the tax. But the sales increase at Toyota's Lexus division was in line with the rest of the company's products, and Honda's luxury Acura division showed a 16.5% decline.

The industry's sales in April had lagged 6.1% behind the same month in 1994. The reports for May, which did not include No. 2 Ford and No. 6 Nissan--showed the overall industry down about 3.6%. Ford will report its sales on Monday.

The Big Three domestic auto makers have scaled back fleet sales in recent years because profit margins are lower on those transactions.

Among the other major companies, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Isuzu and Hyundai all reported sales declines in May.

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