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The Economy

Auto Sales Undefeated by Rising Oil Costs

March 02, 2000|From Times Wire Services

DETROIT — Every major auto maker reported stronger year-over-year sales Wednesday, as consumer confidence and rising wages trumped soaring gasoline prices.

U.S. sales of passenger cars and light trucks last month totaled 1,498,245, an increase of 11.3% on the basis of average daily selling rate (the leap year added an extra sales day to February's results).

Sales for the month could approach 19 million units on a seasonally adjusted annual rate, second only to 21 million in September 1986, when a roaring stock market, pent-up demand and end-of-summer incentives boosted sales.

"The traffic lights are green on Main Street, USA," Robert L. Rewey, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president for global consumer services, said Wednesday.

Rising interest rates could hurt sales in the second half of the year, but auto makers and analysts said unit sales this year could approach last year's record 16.96 million.

The traditional Big Three auto makers--General Motors Corp., Ford and DaimlerChrysler's U.S. operations--all beat forecasts of generally flat results.

Sales at No. 1 GM surged 16.1% to 468,077. Analysts credited the boost in part to incentives that raised sales

Ford recorded its best February ever, as sales jumped 6.5% to 353,537. The No. 2 auto maker reported record sales for several of its brands, including Jaguar and Volvo.

Record minivan and truck sales boosted DaimlerChrysler's domestic brands 4.6% to 234,677 units. The company's Mercedes-Benz unit recorded its best February.

Toyota Motor Corp., the fourth-largest auto maker in the U.S., also reported a record February, with sales of 127,858, a 13.5% increase.

Most of the Southern California-based Asian importers scored sales increases, from modest gains at Honda Motor Co. (1.6%) to double-digit jumps at Nissan Motor Co. (19.5%), Mitsubishi Motors Corp. (51%) and Korean makers Kia and Hyundai (both more than 60%).

Volkswagen of Germany reported a 29% sales increase.

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