DETROIT - In a familiar pattern for the nation's two largest automakers, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. posted sales declines last month, while Japanese rivals and the smallest of Detroit's Big Three made impressive gains.
Moreover, GM and Ford said Tuesday that sales of big trucks and SUVs - vehicles that provide the highest profits - were well off last month, apparently the victim of consumer worries about high fuel prices.
And both companies said they will produce fewer vehicles in the remainder of the first quarter and in the second quarter versus a year ago - cutbacks that are sure to hurt revenue and profits.
GM, the world's largest automaker, posted a 12.7 percent decline after a slight 1 percent increase in January. Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker, said sales of its domestic cars and trucks fell 3 percent in February - its ninth consecutive month of lower sales versus a year ago.
DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group said sales rose 7.5 percent on another month of sizzling car business, which was up 21 percent from a year ago. Truck sales rose 4 percent.
"Sales for February show we're sustaining our momentum and leading us toward a sixth consecutive successful quarter of sales," said Gary Dilts, Chrysler's group vice president for sales.
Once again, the best reports came from Asian companies. Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's top automaker, said sales from its U.S. arm rose 11 percent from a year ago, while Nissan Motor Co. logged a 10 percent increase - its best February on record despite a 2 percent decline in car sales.
"As gas prices continue their upward march, fuel efficiency catches the public eye," said Jim Press, the executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. "Our investment in a broad lineup of fuel-efficient vehicles continues to drive showroom traffic."
Even smaller Suzuki Motor Corp., which is looking to become a bigger player in the Asian assault on the U.S. automotive market, grabbed a bit more business with a 17.6 improvement in sales from a year ago. Suzuki launched an ambitious plan in 2003 to triple U.S. sales by 2007.
Honda Motor Co., hurt in part by an aging version of its high-volume Civic car, said sales dropped 7 percent from a year ago. Car sales declined 16.5 percent, and truck sales climbed 7.5 percent. Honda is in the midst of redesigning its entire Civic lineup for 2006.
GM said its truck sales fell 9 percent while car business tumbled 17 percent. The automaker said some new products, such as the Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Cobalt, had solid performances, but overall it acknowledged a pretty rotten start to 2005.
Ford said truck sales - which include pickups, SUVs and minivans - fell 8 percent last month, while car demand rose 9 percent.
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