Bad December for automakers

Friday, January 4, 2008 at 2:15am

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. said U.S. auto sales fell in December, capping the worst year in a decade, and predicted that 2008 probably won’t be any better.

GM’s sales of cars and light trucks dropped 4.4 percent from a year earlier. Ford’s total tumbled 9.2 percent, while Toyota’s fell 1.7 percent. Toyota moved up to second in annual sales, pushing Ford from the spot it had held since 1931.

“It’s going to be a brutal year for autos; we’re headed into a recession,” said Pete Hastings, a fixed-income analyst at Morgan Keegan & Co. in Memphis.

Among other automakers, Nissan Motor Co. reported a 2.4 percent sales decline for last month, while Chrysler LLC’s rose 0.5 percent and Honda Motor Co. had a gain of just 14 vehicles.

Ford said it expects a “challenging” U.S. economy in 2008 and Toyota cut its annual sales-growth forecast, after Americans bought 16.1 million cars and light trucks last year, the least since 1998.

GM Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner said the U.S. economy might be a “risk” to auto sales this year. Ford forecast that industry-wide first-half sales would be at an annual rate of 15.2 million to 15.7 million.

Industry-wide U.S. sales fell 2.9 percent in December to 1.39 million, and the annual total was down 2.5 percent from 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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