DETROIT -- The nation's two biggest automakers, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., reported soft sales in January while DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group and Japan's Toyota and Nissan reported healthy gains in their US sales.
Industry leader GM said yesterday its overall sales increased 1 percent last month, while Ford, the nation's second-biggest automaker, reported a 5.4 percent sales decline from January 2004.
Chrysler, meanwhile, had its 10th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth, with overall vehicle sales up 9.2 percent. January sales rose 15 percent for Nissan Motor Co. and 6.2 percent at its bigger Japanese rival, Toyota Motor Corp.
The automakers said harsh winter weather in much of the country hurt sales, as did strong December sales.
GM's car sales rose 2.1 percent, while light-truck sales slipped 0.3 percent. It cut its first-quarter production forecast.
Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, cautioned against reading too much into January's outcome, though he acknowledged GM's start to the year was ''a little softer than we expected."
GM lowered its first-quarter production forecast to 1.2 million vehicles, down 25,000 units from last month's guidance and 8.9 percent fewer than it produced in the first quarter of 2004.
Ford had said late last month that it was trimming another 10,000 units from its North American production forecast. The company will produce 920,000 vehicles, 8 percent fewer than it turned out in the first quarter of 2004.
While reporting lower overall sales for January, Ford reversed its recent trend of stronger performance in trucks than cars, selling 7.5 percent more cars last month than a year ago but 10.7 percent fewer trucks in its Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury divisions.
Ford sales analyst George Pipas called both Ford's and the industry's January performance ''weak" but not completely unexpected, given December's torrid industrywide sales pace -- one of the highest on record.
''The industry has followed a predictable pattern over the last several years," Pipas said in a conference call with analysts. ''Whenever we have a strong month, we have a weak month [to follow]. Of course, we refer to that phenomenon as 'payback.' "
But Pipas also noted that January traditionally is one of the slowest months of the year for car sales and carries the least weight in predicting the full-year result.
Despite the relatively somber picture, Ford celebrated strong results for its new car models. It said combined sales of the Ford Five Hundred, the Ford Freestyle, and the Mercury Montego increased about 5 percent from December to January.