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Sales of Janesville-built trucks continue to fall

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JAMES P. LEUTE
May 2, 2008
— For those still unsure of the effect rising fuel prices are having on the sales of General Motors’ full-size sport utility vehicles, April’s sales numbers tell the story.

GM said Thursday that a sharp sales increase in fuel-efficient cars and crossovers could not make up for soft truck demand.


GM sold a total of 257,638 light vehicles in April, down 16.2 percent from 307,554 in the same month last year. Adjusted for two additional sales days in the month, GM’s sales fell 22.7 percent.


Due to the sagging economy and rising gas prices, GM announced Monday that it will cut second-shift production at its Janesville assembly plant starting in July. The move is expected to result in the loss of at least 750 jobs.


“Consumer preference is shifting, and we’re shifting with it as evidenced by our strong car and crossover sales,” said Mark LaNeve, GM’s vice president of North America Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing. “Throughout the industry, truck sales have been soft. We’ve been able to match the current economic slowdown with historically low total inventories, and as we look for ways to increase car and crossover production, we are improving our competitive position for the economic recovery.”


April sales of the four full-size SUVs built in Janesville continued their decline, posting a sales drop of 30 percent in comparison to those of April 2007.


For the month, Chevrolet Suburban sales were down 25 percent, while those of the Chevy Tahoe dropped 29 percent. Deliveries of GMC Yukon XLs fell 33 percent, and sales of GMC Yukons were down 40 percent.


The four SUVs built in Janesville also are produced at GM plants in Arlington, Texas, and Silao, Mexico.


Chevrolet Malibu total sales were up 29 percent, while Aveo sales were up 14 percent and Cobalt sales were up 16 percent.


GM’s crossover Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook together accounted for nearly 13,000 retail vehicle sales in the month, an increase of 7 percent compared with the same month last year.


“Our sales performance in mid-cars and crossovers shows the power of new products to attract consumers, even in a tough market,” LaNeve said. “So as the mix shifts from trucks to cars, we’re ready in our dealers’ showrooms with vehicles that provide industry-leading value, great fuel economy and the best warranty coverage of any full-line automaker.”


The Detroit giant said that about 130,000 units of production have been lost in April due to the American Axle & Manufacturing strike, and about 230,000 units have been lost since the dispute began in late February.


The mass exodus away from trucks and SUVs also hit other automakers, as Ford and Chrysler also posted double-digit sales declines.


Ford sales retreated 12.2 percent to 200,727 cars and trucks from 228,623 a year ago. Truck sales plunged 18.3 percent to 120,814 vehicles while cars, due to a planned cut in sales to rental-car companies, fell 1 percent to 79,913.


Chrysler, with its lineup more geared to the bulkier vehicles than its competitors, was the hardest hit of the bunch, down more than 23 percent to 147,751 cars and trucks.


Toyota Motor Corp., however, managed to post higher sales because it is much less reliant on trucks and SUVs.


“There are no shocking trends here,” said Edmunds.com analyst Jesse Toprak. “The smaller car segment will continue to grow through the summer as gas prices probably get worse, and the Japanese automakers are much better positioned to capitalize on that.”


Analysts are looking for the worst year of industry sales since the early 1990s, and April has delivered more evidence to back those forecasts.


Material from Gazette wire services was used in this story.

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