Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, said its U.S. sales fell 13 percent last month. DaimlerChrysler AG also reported a decline. Ford said in a statement today that it sold 233,621 cars and trucks last month, a drop from 267,881 a year earlier. U.S. sales for DaimlerChrysler fell 1 percent to 218,530 vehicles, including a 0.5 percent increase at the Chrysler unit and a 9.9 percent drop at Mercedes-Benz.

At DaimlerChrysler, “I am a little surprised that Mercedes is bringing them down, the softness has been in Chrysler” said Pete Hastings, a fixed-income analyst at Morgan Keegan & Co. in Memphis, Tennessee. “December’s usually a good time of year for luxuries.”

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s second-largest automaker, increased its U.S. market share through November to 15.3 percent from 13.3 percent a year earlier, while industry sales fell 2.5 percent. Ford, DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler and General Motors Corp. combined or a 7.9 percent decline.

Ford increased its monthly sales only three times in 2006, the same as GM, which will report December sales later today. Detroit-based GM is the world’s largest automaker and Stuttgart, Germany-based DaimlerChrysler is fifth biggest.

Industrywide U.S. sales last month may have shrunk to an annual rate of 16.6 million vehicles, according to a Bloomberg survey of 10 analysts. In December 2005, the rate was 17.2 million. December is typically among the strongest months for sales as carmakers offer discounts to reduce inventory.

GM, Ford Estimates

December sales may have dropped 2.2 percent at GM and 9.4 percent at Ford, according to the average estimate in the survey.

Those estimates are adjusted for 26 selling days last month, one fewer than in December 2005. Some automakers, including GM, report adjusted results. Bloomberg uses unadjusted comparisons, which will be about 4 percentage points lower than adjusted figures.

“It’s a weak market for trucks and sport-utilities and that’s affecting all the U.S. companies,” said Jesse Toprak, director of automotive forecasting for Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, California. “You’ll see that more buyers are moving to smaller cars.”

In 2005, the industry sold 16.99 million cars and light trucks, the third-best year on record, helped by December sales of 1.48 million vehicles, according to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based Autodata Corp.

Bear Stearns analyst Peter Nesvold in New York predicted industry sales for 2006 to drop to 16.5 million vehicles.

Hurt by Light-Truck Demand

All three U.S. automakers were hurt by higher gasoline prices and a weakened housing market. That turned buyers away from the SUVs and other light trucks that represent at least 60 percent of each of those companies’ sales.

GM, Ford and Chrysler are all losing money and cutting production. GM planned to build 13 percent fewer vehicles in North America during the fourth quarter, Ford forecast a 22 percent cut and Chrysler trimmed second-half output by as much as 17 percent.

Ford said yesterday it is quitting the minivan segment and will end production of its Freestar after sales fell 32 percent through November. Instead, Ford will promote its so-called crossover vehicles, such as the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX.

GM’s 8.3 percent sales slide through November may have been damped somewhat by improved sales of its redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra large pickups, according to some analysts in the survey.

GM persuaded 34,000 workers to take buyouts in 2006 and sold a majority of its finance unit after reporting about $13.7 billion in losses over the past eight quarters. Ford, which lost almost $7 billion in the year’s first nine months, is buying out 38,000 blue-collar employees.

The asian companies keep on advancing and grabbing more US market share.

[Edited by Simon – Format changes]

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