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GM Car Sales Drop 14%; Light Trucks Gain 2%

Autos: Aging lineup called a factor in August decline. Japanese firms report mixed U.S. results.

September 05, 1996|From Associated Press

General Motors Corp. said Wednesday that its domestic sales in August fell 8% from a year ago, despite strong demand for its sport-utility vehicles.

GM was hurt by a 14% drop in car sales, an especially weak performance that reflects in part the aging of its model lineup. Car sales for all GM divisions were down in August.

Japan's major auto makers had mixed results last month. Honda's U.S. sales were down 14%, Toyota's were up 1% and Nissan improved by nearly 6% over a year ago.

GM, the world's largest auto maker, is preparing to introduce 15 redesigned cars and light trucks in the next few months, representing a quarter of its vast product lineup.

"With the introduction of several new products, we anticipate stronger sales performance going forward," said Ron Zarella, a GM marketing vice president.

GM shares lost 87.5 cents to close at $48.875 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Among the few GM cars that showed sales improvements last month were newer models such as the Oldsmobile Aurora, the Pontiac Sunfire and the Chevrolet Cavalier.

GM's light-truck sales were up 2%, spurred by the Chevrolet Blazer, Tahoe and Suburban sport-utilities. They all set August sales records. The Oldsmobile Bravada, a luxury version of the Blazer, also set an August record.

Chrysler Corp. on Tuesday had reported that car sales were off 4% for August, but its overall sales were up 9% due to a 17% increase in light-truck sales.

The No. 3 auto maker sells a far greater percentage of light trucks--pickups, minivans and sport-utilities--than GM. Last month, for example, light trucks represented 69% of Chrysler's total sales. They represented 41% of GM's total sales.

Ford Motor Co. plans to report its August sales today.

Analyst Joseph Phillippi of Lehman Bros. in New York said GM will continue to lag as long as it has a product line weighted toward cars with a dated image.

"They've still got a substantial portion of their product portfolio that doesn't have the requisite appeal to the baby-boomer buyers who are driving this market," he said.

Phillippi noted that GM's Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Buick divisions all saw double-digit sales declines last month.

"Those three divisions historically have been purveyors of cars for an older generation of Americans," he said. "They have a different brand character in the minds of many consumers, and they're just not on the shopping list for many folks."

Honda said its sales were hampered by low inventories of the popular Civic and Accord sedans. Toyota said it had its best August ever as the model year neared its close.

"Consumers are responding to affordable interest rates and traditional year-end bargains, depleting our . . . supply and clearing the way for incoming '97 models," said Yale Gieszl, a Toyota vice president.

Most European auto makers reported improved U.S. sales for August.

Audi said its sales were up 195%--its best sales for any month in eight years. Mercedes-Benz (up 45%), BMW (up 19%) and Land Rover (up 22%) posted their best August sales ever.

Volkswagen reported its best August sales in nine years, up 22%, and GM's Saab unit said sales increased 3%.

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