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HEARD ON THE BEAT / CORPORATE

Auto Industry in High Gear for 1st Quarter

April 13, 1999|JOHN O'DELL

Back to those new cars on which we spend so much of our wages and salaries:

The first quarter was a big one for auto makers and importers in the U.S. A total of 3.5 million cars and light trucks were sold, a 10.8% increase from last year. That puts 1999 on track to become one of the biggest years in history for the industry.

In Orange County, where almost all of the second-tier Asian importers have their U.S. headquarters and where Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury division set up shop last summer, results followed the national trend. A few sales slides offset by several big gains.

Irvine-based Kia Motors America Inc., which still is expanding its dealership network, sold 27,567 cars and sport utility vehicles, up 41.5% for the quarter.

Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc., in Cypress, sold 54,191 cars and SUVs for a 24% increase.

American Isuzu Motors Inc., which is almost in Orange County--it just moved its national headquarters to Cerritos from City of Industry--posted a 19.7% gain with sales of 21,745 sport utility vehicles.

Hyundai Motor America Inc., in Fountain Valley, reported car and SUV sales of 29,022 units for the quarter, a 13.2% gain.

Irvine-based Mercury saw sales rise 10.7% to 103,835 cars and SUVs--an increase that lends some credence to Ford's insistence that the division is not being phased out.

On the down side, sales for Mazda North American Operations of Irvine dropped 10.2% to 50,691 cars and light trucks; American Suzuki Motor Corp. posted quarterly sales of 10,101 cars and SUVs, down 11.1%, and Lincoln, which shares headquarters in Irvine with Mercury, saw sales for the three months decline 21.8% to 36,985 cars and SUVs.

John O'Dell covers major Orange County corporations and manufacturing for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5831 and at john.odell@latimes.com.

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