Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hybrid cars bring 12% sales increase for Toyota

Hybrid cars bring 12% sales increase for Toyota
By Bernard Simon in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 5 2007 03:00 | Last updated: April 5 2007 03:00

Toyota's US sales climbed to a record last month thanks partly to soaring demand for the Japanese carmaker's hybrid petrol-electric vehicles.

Toyota's gain of almost 12 per cent from a year earlier contrasted with declines at its three Detroit-based rivals.

General Motors reported a 4 per cent drop in March sales, Ford was down 9 per cent and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler division was 5 per cent lower. There was one more selling day last month than in March 2006.

Paul Ballew, GM's sales analyst, cautioned that the recent bounce in fuel prices and the weak housing market were clouding future prospects.

"Those are headwinds that the industry is going to have to struggle with as we go into the second quarter," Mr Ballew said.

GM on Tuesday announced a further 1.3 per cent cut in its North American second-quarter output.

Sales of Toyota's Prius hatchback, the top-selling hybrid model, more than doubled last month to more than 19,100 vehicles, helping to propel total US sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrids past the half-million mark.

Toyota has recently offered discounts and other incentives on the Prius in an attempt to broaden its appeal. "We made a conscious decision to expand our Prius business," said Don Esmond, head of Toyota's US motor operations.

Intense competition in the high-margin pick-up truck market took a toll on allleading carmakers last month. Sales of Ford's top-selling F-Series trucks slid by 15 per cent, while GM reported a 9 per cent drop in sales of its Chevrolet Silverado.

Toyota's newly launched Tundra pick-up reported a12 per cent gain. But sales have so far fallen short of the Japanese carmaker's target of 200,000 this year.

Mr Esmond pointed out that April would be the first month that dealers could offer a full line-up of different cab versions.

He said that most sales were to existing Toyota owners, rather than "conquests" from rival brands. In an effort to boost sales, Toyota has recently offered substantial discounts on the Tundra.

George Pipas, Ford's sales analyst, said Ford was encouraged by growing sales of its Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ saloons and buoyant demand for recently introduced cross-over vehicles.

GM also reported strong sales of new crossovers, such as the GMC Acadia. Its recently reinvigorated Saturn division posted a 22 per cent jump in March sales.

Among other carmakers, Volkswagen's sales for March slumped by 16 per cent, with declines in every model that was available a year ago. Honda and South Korea's Hyundai reported record sales last month.


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