Ford's U.S. auto sales in April slump 16%

Tuesday, May 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. auto sales slid 16 percent in April, dragged down by weakness in sales of its high-profit sport utility vehicles.

Ford was the first of the Big Three automakers to report its results for what analysts expect will be a seventh straight month of declines, given nagging shakiness in consumer confidence.

General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler arm were expected to announce later Tuesday that their April domestic sales also had tumbled.

The 16 percent skid in sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles included a 22 percent slide in cars and a 12 percent drop-off in trucks compared with a year ago.

Given the soft sales, the world's second-largest automaker said it would trim second-quarter production by an additional 3 percent, to 10 percent below the same period last year.

Formerly fast-selling, high-profit SUVs showed particular weakness. Sales of the Explorer dropped 16 percent, while demand for the Excursion tumbled 32 percent. Sales of Ford's Windstar vans plunged 35 percent.

Last month's lackluster U.S. vehicle sales came during a month when consumer confidence in the nation's economy dove. The New York-based Conference board said last week that consumer confidence index fell to 109.2 in April, down from a revised 116.9 the previous month. The board's survey was completed before the Federal Reserve unexpectedly cut interest rates for the fourth time this year.

While alluding to the drop in consumer confidence, Ford's Martin Inglis called the company's April sales ``still healthy'' and ``a sign of underlying strength in the U.S. economy.''

``Together with lower interest rates, it lays the groundwork for stronger economic growth later this year and into next year,'' said Inglis, Ford's vice president of Ford North America.

Chrysler's chief said Monday that its U.S. sales in April would drop at a faster rate than the rest of the industry. Dieter Zetsche, Chrysler's president and chief executive, blamed that ``hiccup'' on miscommunication over Chrysler's new dealer sales incentive program.

Chrysler, waging a three-year, dlrs 3.9 billion revival plan, reported a dlrs 1.2 billion loss from January through March. While that decline was about dlrs 100 million less than analysts expected, the performance follows the division's dlrs 1.8 billion in losses over the previous two quarters.

Under the turnaround plan, Chrysler looks to jettison 26,000 jobs _ one-fifth of its work force _ over the next three years, with most of those cuts expected to come this year. Chrysler also intends to close six plants and has pushed suppliers to cut prices by 15 percent.