Page last updated at 21:41 GMT, Monday, 5 January 2009

Steep sales drop for US carmakers

Chrysler Dodge Ram
Chrysler and the other big US carmakers have seen sales fall sharply

US carmakers have reported sharp falls in December car sales in another sign of the impact of the economic slowdown.

Chrysler was the worst-hit of the Big Three US car firms with its monthly sales plummeting 53%, when compared with December the previous year.

Ford saw its monthly US sales fall 32%, while General Motors sales dropped 31% - when compared with December 2007.

Worldwide car sales are expected to be down 40% in December, as consumers stay away from car showrooms.

Bigger discounts

However, the steep falls in US car sales have not been limited to US manufacturers.

Toyota and Honda's US sales fell more than their US competitors' in December. Toyota recorded a 37% decline and Honda a drop of 35%.

The plunge in Chrysler's December figures helped to drag its 2008 sales down 30% to fewer than 1.5 million vehicles.

The figures came just days after a US government bail-out to help the cash-strapped carmakers bridge the current financial crisis.

The deals on brand new GM pickups are astonishing, the discount that you get buys a heck of a lot of gasoline
Aaron Bragman, IHS Global Insight

Chrysler said some of its losses were due to a significant reduction in fleet sales, which were down 31% for the year as a whole.

In a statement the firm said it would "continue to invest in quality and fuel-efficiency improvements on its current line-up, while developing all-new vehicles for the next generation".

Chrysler has said it will offer discounts of up to $8,000 (5,400) on some of its models to help lure back customers to its showrooms.

One car firm, Hyundai, is trying to woo buyers by promising to let them return cars free for up to a year if they lose their jobs and can't keep up with their payments.

Industry analysts expect similar incentives such as zero-per cent financing and cash rebates to continue well into 2009, as car firms try everything they can to boost sales.

"You look in the paper and the deals on brand new GM pickups are astonishing. The discount that you get buys a heck of a lot of gasoline," said Aaron Bragman of IHS Global Insight, Troy, Michigan.

Luxury successes

Ford said it sold 138,458 light vehicles last month, down from 204,787 in December 2007. But even though its sales were dismal, Ford said it expects to fare better than the industry overall.

Meanwhile, GM sold 220,030 light vehicles compared with 319,837 in December 2007.

The one major exception to the collapse in car sales, has been the Japanese carmaker Subaru, which saw its US sales edge higher in 2008.

Subaru reported its December sales were down 7.7% on the year before - but its sales for all of 2008 rose by 0.3%.

The firm said in a statement that "in a difficult market", it had been able to establish new sales records, with its "highest market share ever".

A handful of smaller car firms - including luxury names like Rolls Royce and Maserati - recorded higher sales in 2008 up to November.

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