Originally created 06/02/06

Fuel prices help Honda, Toyota soar



DETROIT - Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. saw double-digit U.S. sales increases in May as consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles grew, the automakers reported Thursday.

Rising fuel prices hurt domestic manufacturers, which rely more heavily on sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles. General Motors Corp. said its sales were down 12 percent for the month, while Ford Motor Co. said its sales were down 2 percent and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group said sales were down nearly 11 percent

Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of market and industry analysis, said automakers felt the full brunt of a spike in gas prices that began in April. Rising interest rates also hurt sales, he said.

"We knew we'd have a rocky month," Mr. Ballew said.

Toyota's overall sales were up 17 percent and car sales were up nearly 25 percent thanks to strong sales of the automaker's new Yaris subcompact and the redesigned Camry. Both cars went on sale in March.

Toyota said sales of its trucks and sport utility vehicles rose nearly 7 percent, mostly because of growing sales of crossovers such as the RAV4 and the debut of the FJ Cruiser sport utility vehicle.

"The pinch at the pump has made small cars part of the big picture, right along with hybrids," said Jim Lentz, a group vice president for Toyota's U.S. sales division.

Honda's car sales shot up 21 percent as the Fit subcompact and redesigned Civic hit the market, while truck and SUV sales were up 9 percent thanks to strong sales of the Pilot crossover and Ridgeline small pickup.

GM said its car sales fell nearly 16 percent, largely because of an effort to cut back on sales to rental car companies. Truck and SUV sales were down 10 percent. Even GM's 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, which has enjoyed a sales boom this spring, was down 5.5 percent in May. Mr. Ballew said comparisons to last year's sales will continue to be difficult throughout the summer, since GM and other domestic automakers saw near-record sales last year because of its employee discounts.