Automotive Roundup: No Big Surprises As Domestics Struggle

As the third-quarter automotive sales numbers roll in--no surprise--Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Nissan had a great quarter, to varying degrees, while the domestics are hanging fire.

The imports--Honda and Toyota particularly--are benefiting from their new cars and compact SUVS, a resurrected market for sub-compacts, and momentum. The domestics are struggling simply to hold onto their real estate in trucks, while they roll out new crossovers, compact cars, sedans and compact SUVs.

Honda, benefiting from strong demand for sub-compact cars and smaller SUVs, is heading toward its 13th straight year of increasing sales in the U.S. The company surpassed Nissan globally to become No.2 in Japan in the second quarter, ending Sept. 30.

North American sales increased by 4.3% in the quarter to 411,000 vehicles, because of huge interest in the Civic and Fit sub-compacts. Civic sales in the U.S. are up more than 7% through September; the company will boost production by up to 60,000 units by early next year, to 440,000 units yearly. Honda is also one of the few whose SUV sales are up. Thanks to the Pilot and CR-V, and Odyssey minivan, Honda posted a more than 8% increase in truck sales through the year.

General Motors, restructuring after losing more than $10.6 billion last year, reported a net loss of $115 million--an improvement over the $1.7 billion loss during the same quarter last year. The improvement comes partly from restructuring, and partly from an increase in sales over 2005.

The company reported adjusted net losses of $367 million in the third quarter for North American operations, which was an improvement of $1.3 billion. The company attributed that to its efforts to fix its pension and health-related legacy costs, and a manufacturing reduction worth 96,000 vehicles. GM said the cuts would save the company $6 billion this year.

"There continues to be excellent progress in North America, with over $3.4 billion of net income improvement in the first nine months of the year," said CEO Rick Wagoner in a statement. He said the company is on track to meet a target of cutting $9 billion on an average annual running rate basis by the end of 2006.

The company this fall launched the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups and the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia crossovers.

On the heels of Ford's dour announcement that it had lost $5.8 billion this quarter came DaimlerChrysler's Q3 report yesterday, posting a 14% drop in sales of Chrysler Group vehicles worldwide to 635,300, down from 663,400 during the same quarter last year.

Chrysler Group reported a loss of $1.47 billion for the quarter, versus $393 million during the quarter last year. During the earnings conference call from DaimlerChrysler's Stuttgart headquarters, Bodo Uebber, the company's CFO, suggested the company may be mulling a sale of Chrysler Group.

Although Chrysler Group launched the Jeep Compass compact SUV, Wrangler Unlimited, and the Aspen this quarter, and will launch the first totally redesigned Sebring sedan in years, as well as the new compact Dodge Nitro car and Jeep Patriot, the company expects a drop in fourth-quarter sales in the U.S.

Mercedes-Benz, after restructuring last year and introducing new vehicles like S-Class and new M-Class SUVs and GL, has begun to find its footing in the U.S. again. It is recovering from an ill-advised move down-market with vehicles like the C230 hatch, and quality problems. The company reported Q3 sales up slightly to 282,800, from 282,100.

President Bush will meet with Detroit's Big Three next month to discuss health care costs and trade and alternative energy issues, according to a story yesterday in the Detroit News.

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