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Automakers suffer big drops in sales

December 2, 2008 12:55:02 PM PST
Chrysler says its November U.S. sales plunged 47 percent, blaming a slumping industrywide demand and a planned drop in fleet sales. A dreary economy, swooning consumer confidence and tight credit markets have combined to keep consumers out of vehicle showrooms this year. On Monday, the National Bureau of Economic Research said the U.S. entered a recession in December 2007, much earlier than most predictions.

October's seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 10.6 million vehicles was worst in more than 25 years and far below the rate of 16 million a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp.

But many analysts expect November sales to come in slightly better, noting that aggressive incentive spending and the plunge in gasoline prices may have put a floor under sales.

The drop announced Tuesday by Chrysler includes a 59 percent decrease in demand for cars and 42 percent decline in truck sales.

Excluding fleet sales, the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based automaker says its November sales fell 36 percent.

Chrysler LLC's sales drop compares with a 41 percent plunge at General Motors.

Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's No. 1 automaker, were the first of the major automakers to report U.S. sales Tuesday.

Ford said Ford, Lincoln and Mercury light truck sales were off 29 percent compared with November 2007, while the three brands' car sales were down 32 percent.

Toyota's truck sales plummeted 36 percent, while demand for passenger cars fell 32 percent, despite the automaker's extension of zero-percent financing on a dozen vehicles through the end of the month.

Toward the end of the month, Ford also announced offers of employee pricing, zero-percent financing and cash incentives on a variety of its vehicles in a move to offset one of the worst sales declines in the industry's history.

Automakers' sales reports are coming in the same day the U.S.-based automakers were scheduled to present plans to Congress for how they expect to return to profitability. Ford, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC will go before lawmakers this week to ask a second time for a combined $25 billion federal loan to stave off bankruptcy.

Concessions are also expected from the United Auto Workers Union. UAW leaders from across the U.S. planned to hold an emergency meeting in Detroit on Wednesday to discuss concessions the union could make to help the companies get loans.

In midday trading, Ford shares rose 25 cents, or 9.8 percent, to $2.80, while Toyota's U.S. shares rose $3.76, or 6.4 percent, to $62.32.

The Associated Press reports unadjusted auto sales figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages adjusted for sales days. There were 25 sales days last month, the same as in November 2007.

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AP Auto Writer Dan Strumpf contributed to this report.

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