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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 March, 2005, 00:49 GMT
GM, Ford cut output as sales fall
Hummer H1 (left) and CXT
Are Americans ending their love affair with gas-guzzling SUVs?
US car firms General Motors (GM) and Ford have been forced to cut production in the face of falling car sales.

US sales at GM sank 12.7% in February compared to a year ago while Ford sales dropped 3% as foreign rivals took a bigger share of the market.

Meanwhile, Asian carmakers fared well - Toyota sales jumped 11% while rival Nissan notched up a 10% increase.

Overall. sales across the industry also fell to 1.25 million vehicles from 1.27 million a year earlier.

The calendar year is starting off slower than expected, both for GM and the industry
Mark LaNeve
GM and Ford blamed high fuel prices for low sales of big trucks and gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles (SUVs) - the vehicles that provide the biggest profits.

'Slow start'

GM added that US truck sales fell 9% in February while car business tumbled 17%, however it did acknowledge that some new products - such as the Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Cobalt - had put in solid performances.

"The calendar year is starting off slower than expected, both for GM and the industry," said Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president for North American sales, service and marketing.

The slump in sales prompted the group to cut production in North America by 3% - it has already reduced output by around 9% in the face of growing stockpiles.

Meanwhile, Ford which posted its ninth consecutive drop in monthly US sales, said it was cutting first-quarter North American production by another 10,000 vehicles, or 1.2%.

Chrysler, the US unit of Germany's DaimlerChrysler, was the only Detroit based automaker to boast an increase in market share during the month - with sales rising 8%.

Foreign winners

But America's loss was its foreign rivals' gain as they continued to nibble away at the US market.

While Japan's top car maker Toyota and Nissan saw sales accelerate, even the smaller Suzuki Motor Corp snapped up a more business with sales improving 17.6% on a year ago.

In 2003, the firm launched an ambitious plan to triple US sales by 2007 as it seeks to become a bigger player in the Asian assault on the US market.

Korea's Hyundai was another big gainer, turning in a 19% surge in February sales.

Toyota put its rise in sales down to strong results for its redesigned Avalon sedan and a 120% surge in sales of its gas-electric Prius hybrid mid-size sedan as petrol-price conscious consumers looked to vehicles that were cheaper to run.

"As gas prices continue their upward march, fuel efficiency catches the public eye," Jim Press, vice president and chief operating officer of Toyota's US sales arm, said in a statement.

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