General Motors Corp. extended its recovery from two devastating summer strikes with an October U.S. sales gain of 6 percent over year-ago levels. Ford Motor Co.'s sales edged up 2 percent.
The reports from the world's two largest automakers Wednesday closed out an unusually strong October for the industry, despite the stock market's gyrations and fears of an economic slowdown. Several major automakers set October records.
GM's sales were strong across the board, with 6 percent gains in cars and light trucks."GM is not letting up," said Roy Roberts, vice president for sales and marketing. "We expect the strong economy to continue for the foreseeable future."
Ford's robust sales of sport utility vehicles and pickups led to its overall gain despite an 8 percent drop in car sales. Trucks were up 10 percent; sales of the Ford Explorer, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs set records for any month.
"An economic environment that provides job growth and wage increases with low inflation and interest rates doesn't hurt," said Bob Rewey, Ford vice president of sales and marketing.
GM's market research chief, Mike DiGiovanni, said October's results were so strong that GM was considering increasing its industry sales forecast for 1999 above the 14.9 million vehicles predicted earlier this year. Ford said it was increasing its fourth-quarter production by 25,000 vehicles.
Chrysler Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Volkswagen AG and Audi AG on Tuesday posted their best October for U.S. sales ever, breaking records that dated as far back as 1985.
"Strong industry sales continue to be driven by competitive pricing and tempting lending rates," Yale Gieszl, a Toyota vice president. "Consumers seem to be looking beyond the recent market turmoil with optimism."
Chrysler's sales rose 20 percent compared with October 1997; sport utility vehicles, pickups and full-size cars contributed most of the gain. Toyota's U.S. sales increased 27 percent, and Honda's improved nearly 10 percen.
Struggling Nissan Motor Corp. was the major exception; its sales fell 7 percent, despite $2,000 rebates on its leftover '98s and a 19 percent improvement by its Infiniti luxury brand.
German automakers again posted some of the biggest percentage gains: Audi had a 137 percent improvement over October 1997, its best sales month of the year so far and its best October since 1986; Volkswagen's U.S. sales were up almost 69 percent, its best October since 1985.
VW and Audi have benefited from a revamped model lineup. Volkswagen is seeing the popularity of its new Beetle rub off on its other models, while Audi's A4, A6 and all-aluminum A8 sedans are proving to be hits with luxury car buyers.
Chrysler's sales of 226,179 vehicles broke the previous October record of 205,393, set in 1996. The October sales report likely was the last for Chrysler as an independent U.S. company. Its merger with Daimler-Benz AG is expected to be completed during the week of Nov. 16.
Chrysler's four models off its redesigned LH platform (the Chrysler Concorde, LHS, 300M, and Dodge Intrepid) boosted the company's car sales total by 27 percent over the year-ago level.
Chrysler's truck sales rose 17 percent, led by strong demand for the new Dodge Durango SUV and the Dodge Ram and Dakota pickups, as well as the Jeep Cherokee and Wrangler. Jeep Grand Cherokee sales were down due to the changeover to the '99 model; the '99s were just beginning to reach showrooms in volume last month.
Among other foreign automakers that reported U.S. sales Tuesday:
- Mazda improved 21 percent.
- Mitsubishi Motors Corp. was up 12 percent.
- Subaru was off 1 percent.
- Suzuki gained 45 percent.
- BMW AG improved 10 percent.
- Saab Automobile AB rose 85 percent.
- Volvo Car Corp. gained 2 percent.
- BMW's Land Rover unit was up 45 percent.
Written by Brian S. Akre