Ford expects decline in sales

Ford expects decline in sales http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070227/BUSINESS01/702270393/1014
Ford Motor Co. anticipates double-digit declines in year-over-year February
sales numbers, as it continues to cut back on daily rental fleet sales and suffers difficult comparisons with a strong month of pickup sales last year, Ford's chief sales analyst said Monday.
Ford's George Pipas said he expects the automaker to report Thursday that its total U.S. new vehicle sales were down about 10% to 15% in February compared with the same period last year.
But there is a silver lining, he said, even in another month of gloomy news: After losing about one point of market share every year for the past decade, the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands have averaged about 13% of the retail market for the past eight months, Pipas said. "This doesn't mean our share has stabilized," Pipas said. "This has to play out over a few years before we can say we've got a foundation to build on. ... To me, this is just encouraging."
Pipas and other analysts forecast that the U.S. auto industry in February will look a lot like it did in January, with all of the Detroit automakers reporting lower sales than they did one year ago.
General Motors Corp. expects overall sales for the month to be down about 6% or 7% in year-over-year comparisons, due primarily to continued efforts to reduce its daily rental fleet sales, GM spokesman John McDonald said. The company expects retail sales to be flat for the month, he said.
Analysts also forecast single-digit sales losses for GM.
Chrysler Group vice president for sales and field operations Steven Landry said in a Thursday conference call with dealers that U.S. sales were down in February, but not significantly. Several analysts forecast that Chrysler will end the month of February down 7% to 9% from a year ago.
But Ford will feel the greatest year-to-year pain, Credit Suisse analysts said in a Monday report, with the discontinued Windstar minivan and previous model Taurus sedan accounting for about 11% of Ford's February 2006 sales volume. Credit Suisse estimates that Ford's overall sales will be down 21% to 23% for the month. Edmunds.com forecasts a 23% drop.
Pipas said the automaker's February sales are hurting for reasons beyond the decreasing rental fleet sales and tough comparisons to last year's strong F-series pickup sales. In addition, several 2008 models -- the Super Duty pickups, Escape and Mariner SUVs -- are not yet readily available on some dealer lots.
Full-size pickups will be a category to watch closely in February, Credit Suisse analysts said in a Monday report.
"Lower sales in that category carried into 2007, with January deliveries about 9.3% off the year-ago pace," the Credit Suisse analysts report. "The year-ago February comparison is more difficult than in January, and residential construction -- a major driver of full-size pickup sales -- is still under pressure."
Analysts generally expect top Japanese automakers Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. to make increases in sales and market share for the month compared with a year ago. Edmunds.com forecasts a 16.6% year-over-year increase at Toyota to lead the gainers.
-- "If they pull a knife, you pull a gun. If they put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue." Sean Connery, "The Untouchables"
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