February 3, 2010 in Business

Most auto sales up in January

Companies try to benefit from Toyota’s big hit
Dee-Ann Durbin And Dan Strumpf Associated Press

DETROIT – Toyota’s auto sales fell 16 percent in January, a month when it recalled millions of vehicles and halted sales of several models. Most other automakers reported higher sales and looked for opportunities to snatch sales from the troubled Japanese automaker.

January is typically a weak month for U.S. auto sales, but automakers expected sales to improve over last January, when they dipped to a 26-year low because of the tough economy.

General Motors Co. said its January sales rose 14 percent due to higher fleet and crossover vehicle sales. Crossovers are SUV-like in size but sit on a car instead of a truck frame. Rival Ford Motor Co., meanwhile, also saw sales rise 25 percent on higher fleet sales, while Nissan Motor Co.’s rose 16 percent thanks to higher demand for sedans like the Versa, Sentra and Maxima. Hyundai Motor Co.’s sales rose 24 percent as sales of the newly redesigned Tuscon SUV doubled.

Chrysler fell 8 percent on declining sales of Ram trucks and Jeeps, while Honda Motor Co. sales slipped 5 percent on weaker SUV and crossover demand. Korean automaker Kia said its January U.S. sales were essentially flat.

Susan Docherty, GM vice president of sales, said it’s too early to tell if the largest U.S. automaker gained sales because of Toyota Motor Corp.’s problems. But she said dealers reported increased traffic from Toyota customers.

Toyota said it would suspend sales of the Camry sedan, its top-selling vehicle, and seven other cars and trucks on Jan. 26 following a recall over sticky accelerator pedals that could cause sudden acceleration. Toyota has said dealers will get the parts to fix the problem by the end of this week.

“There is no doubt that the stop sale which was put in place last week impacted our sales,” said Bob Carter, Toyota’s group vice president and general manager.

The eight models for which the sales were suspended amounted to about 60 percent of Toyota dealers’ inventory, he said.

The car-buying site Edmunds.com predicted Toyota’s U.S. market share would drop to 14.7 percent in January, its lowest level since March 2006. The recall affects 2.3 million cars and trucks in the U.S.

In Washington on Tuesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that it had taken “an enormous effort” to get Toyota to recall vehicles in the United States, and said federal regulators were not done with their investigations.

“Since questions were first raised about possible safety defects, we have been pushing Toyota to take measures to protect consumers,” LaHood said in a statement. “While Toyota is taking responsible action now, it unfortunately took an enormous effort to get to this point.”

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