Automakers report mixed sales results on 'clunkers' program

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The federal government's "cash for clunkers" program may have boosted traffic in dealer showrooms last month, but the incentives produced mixed sales results for individual vehicle manufacturers.

Ford, Toyota and Hyundai reported higher sales in August, while General Motors, Chrysler and Nissan saw sales slip from year-ago levels.

General Motors Co., which emerged from bankruptcy in July, reported North American sales fell 20 percent last month to 245,550. Rival Ford Motor Co. (F), however, said total U.S. sales surged 17 percent to 176,323 vehicles.
Toyota Motor Corp. (TM), whose Corolla compact sedan was among the top sellers in the "cash for clunkers" program, said sales rose 6.4 percent.

The smallest of the U.S. Big Three, Chrysler Group, reported sales slipped 15 percent to 93,222, from 110,235 last year, largely because Chrysler, unlike other makes, had few supplies of fuel-efficient vehicles to sell. Still, Chrysler managed to sell five percent more cars last month than in July.

Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co. reported record sales for the month, as sales rose 47 percent to 60,467, from a year earlier. Such healthy sales have helped Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group supplant Ford as the world's fourth-largest vehicle manufacturer.

Japanese car maker Nissan Motor Co. reported sales fell 2.9 percent, although the "cash for clunkers" program, which ended Aug. 24, likely helped sales from falling further. Honda Motor Co. (HMC), which has a reputation for building fuel-efficient vehicles, saw sales rise 10 percent to 161,439 vehicles.

The "cash for clunkers" program, known formally as Car Allowance Rebate Systems, or CARS, provided rebates of up to $4,500 when consumers traded in gas-guzzlers for more fuel efficient vehicles.

Chrysler matched that amount on its vehicles, leading to shortages of some models on dealer lots. With Chrysler plants at idle for nearly three months as the company reorganized under bankruptcy, demand quickly outstripped supply.

Among domestic automakers, Ford was best suited to take advantage of the CARS program, said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.

The Dearborn, Mich., company used the incentive successfully to boost sales, Nerad said. "They were very aggressive ... about trying to capitalize on 'cash for clunkers' overall."

Ford also benefited from a shift in consumer sentiment away from the other domestic auto makers, he said, owing that move in part to Ford's decision not to seek a bailout from the federal government, unlike General Motors and Chrysler.

Ford models showing some of largest sales increases were the Ford Focus compact car, up 56 percent from a year ago; the Ford Escape small SUV, up 49 percent; and Ford Fusion mid-size sedan, up 132 percent from last year. The Fusion also saw its sales rise for the fifth straight month.

Among German automakers, Volkswagen AG said it its August U.S. sales rose 11.4 percent to 24,823 from last year, while Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz and Smart brands, reported sales slipped 10.5 percent to 18,734 compared to a year ago.
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