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GM, Chrysler down, Honda up, Ford, Toyota flat in mixed US sales

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Automakers reported mixed U.S. sales results for November on Monday, with some new or more fuel-efficient models performing well despite consumer malaise over high gas prices and the weak economy.

But even with rising sales of small cars and crossovers, the industry is predicting things will get worse in 2008. General Motors Corp. said Monday it is cutting scheduled first-quarter production by 11 per cent, while Ford Motor Co. said it would cut scheduled production by seven per cent. Ford's top U.S. sales analyst, George Pipas, said the automaker is predicting sales will be at their slowest pace in a decade in the first half of 2008.

Shares of automakers fell. GM dropped $1.22, or four per cent, to $28.61 in trading Monday, and Ford shares declined 26 cents, or 3.5 per cent, to $7.25. Toyota shares fell $1.53, or 1.4 per cent, to $110.92. Shares of Nissan declined 23 cents, or one per cent, to $22.67, and Honda shares dropped 92 cents, or 2.7 per cent, to $33.49.

November sales fell two per cent industrywide in November, according to Autodata Corp. Car sales were up six per cent but sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles fell seven per cent.

GM, the biggest automaker by U.S. sales, said its November sales dropped 11 per cent, hurt by falling demand for trucks as well as cuts in sales to low-profit rental car fleets, while Chrysler LLC said sales fell two per cent. Ford and Toyota Motor Corp. both reported flat sales for the month. Honda Motor Co.'s sales were up five per cent while Nissan Motor Co.'s sales rose six per cent.

``Rising fuel prices and sliding home values delivered a one-two punch this month,'' Jim Lentz, president of Toyota's U.S. sales arm, said in a statement. ``But the industry's not down for the count. Demand for fresh, more fuel-efficient products continues to show strength.''

GM's November truck sales fell 15 per cent, a casualty of the slowing pace of new home construction, while car sales declined four per cent. GM said it also cut sales to low-margin rental fleets by 29 per cent compared with last November. GM's sales were down six per cent for the first 11 months of the year.

Mark LaNeve, GM's vice-president of North American sales, service and marketing, said GM wasn't competitive enough on its incentive spending for 2008 model year pickup trucks. He said the company wants to remain disciplined about incentives but could ramp up spending. Edmunds.com, the automotive information site, said GM spent an average of $3,136 per vehicle on incentives in November, lower than Ford and Chrysler but above its Asian rivals.

``We will make sure we vigorously defend our truck position,'' LaNeve said.

Ford's November results ended a yearlong string of losses. Every month of this year, Ford's sales compared badly to 2006, when it was still selling thousands of its old Taurus sedans to rental fleets. But Oct. 31 marked one year since the end of production of that sedan.

Pipas said Ford is on track to cut rental-fleet sales by 143,000 in 2007, or more than 30 per cent. Ford cut rental-fleet sales by six per cent in November and plans to continue cutting in 2008, Pipas said. Sales to more profitable government and commercial fleets were up 25 per cent for the month.

Ford said its car sales fell two per cent but truck sales rose two per cent, largely on the strength of the Ford Escape small sport utility vehicle and Ford Edge crossover. Sales of the newly redesigned Ford Focus jumped 18 per cent. Ford's sales dropped 12 per cent for the first 11 months of the year.

Toyota continued its drive to overtake Ford this year as the No. 2 automaker by sales, outselling Ford by nearly 15,000 vehicles. Toyota's sales were flat for the month compared with last November, with a four per cent increase in car sales _ including a 109 per cent jump for the hybrid Prius _ offset by a five per cent drop in sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles. Toyota's sales increased four per cent for the year.

Chrysler's car sales shot up 41 per cent, led by the new Sebring convertible as well as the Dodge Charger and Avenger. Those sedans helped lift Dodge's car sales by 75 per cent for the month, Chrysler said. But Chrysler's truck sales were down 13 per cent, and the company's sales were off three per cent for the year.

Honda's car sales rocketed up nearly 20 per cent on the strength of the new Accord sedan and the subcompact Fit, which saw sales double over last November. But the automaker's truck sales fell 11 per cent. Honda's sales rose three per cent for the first 11 months of the year.

The Associated Press reports unadjusted figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages adjusted for sales days. There were 25 sales days last month and 25 in November 2006.

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GM, Chrysler down, Honda up, Ford, Toyota flat in mixed US sales
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