Originally created 06/03/04

Pricing war intensifies in U.S. auto market



WILMINGTON, Del. -- The pricing battle among major automakers intensified Wednesday when rivals General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. began offering more cash to customers on new cars and trucks.

GM's latest program targets current GM owners, who can qualify for up to $5,000 in cash on most 2003 and 2004 vehicles. The new offer, which runs through Aug. 2, can't be combined with existing incentive deals.

For new customers, the automaker said it continues to offer hefty cash rebates and low- to no-interest financing options on most vehicles, including trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Speaking on Wednesday at GM's annual shareholder meeting in Wilmington, GM chairman and chief executive Rick Wagoner said incentives remain an effective tool for generating showroom traffic - but a nagging drag on profits.

GM, the world's largest automaker, generally has been the kingpin in the fierce U.S. pricing war that began after Sept. 11, 2001, to help prop up the industry.

These days, nearly every automaker is offering some type of discount on their vehicles. Some tried to pull back a bit earlier this year and saw sales decline.

"I suspect for at least the next while, as long as the economy is still coming back as opposed to running on full steam, we're going to have to battle it out in the market place a little tougher than we might like," Wagoner said.

At Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker has raised the customer cash available on Freestar minivans by $1,000 to $5,000. The offer is good to customers who finance the vehicle through Ford's credit arm.

Those who don't use Ford's credit agency are eligible for a smaller discount.

"It's a reflection of tough sledding in the minivan market despite good product," Ford spokesman Jim Cain said.

Like GM, Ford continues to offer discounts on a variety of other vehicles, including $1,500 to $3,000 cash rebates on pickups.

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group also has several ongoing deals to spur sales, though a spokesman said no enhancements were announced Wednesday.

On the Net:

General Motors Corp.: http://www.gm.com

Ford Motor Co.: http://www.gm.com

DaimlerChrysler AG: http://www.daimlerchrysler.com