GM picks up speed as rivals struggle

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Most carmakers, with the notable exception of General Motors, reported lower US sales last month, with luxury brands taking a beating and buyers continuing to migrate to smaller vehicles.

Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Honda and Nissan all posted declines compared with January 2007. Toyota’s sales were 2.3 per cent lower, Ford was down by 4 per cent and Chrysler dropped 12 per cent.

According to preliminary figures, car and light truck sales slipped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of about 15.5m vehicles in January, from 16.7m a year earlier. But GM’s sales rose 2.1 per cent, propelled by new passenger-car models, notably the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac CTS sedans.

“We feel that we are in the right place at the right time with our portfolio,” said Mike DiGiovanni, GM’s sales analyst. He predicted that the recent drop in interest rates and the fiscal stimulus package now before Congress would boost sales in the second half of the year.

GM said it was optimistic that total 2008 car and light-truck sales would be little changed from last year’s 16.1m vehicles.

Others were less upbeat. Jim Farley, Ford’s marketing chief, said that “it’s not going to get easier, at least for a while”.

Chrysler announced a new promotion, starting next week, featuring extra features at no extra cost.

Among luxury brands, Toyota’s Lexus division, Honda’s Acura and Nissan’s Infiniti all posted declines. Jaguar sales more than halved. Mercedes bucked the trend with a 7.1 per cent rise. Audi reported a flat month.

George Pipas, Ford’s sales analyst, said high-end consumers were “under some pressure” but predicted that the luxury market would fare better than other segments in coming months.

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