Detroit's Big Two auto makers in April took two distinct approaches to continue their decade-long market share slide, and contributed to an overall year on year sales decline for the US light vehicle market in the process, Dow Jones reported.

General Motors saw demand for passenger cars fall more than 20% year on year in April while Ford posted an 8% gain. GM posted a modest 2% decline in truck sales, even as Ford saw truck demand plummet 15%, the news agency said.

Dow Jones noted that Ford truck sales seemed to wane as consumers moved toward smaller, more fuel-efficient models amid increasing strain at the petrol pump. But GM bucked that trend by capitalising on interest for its range of new, full-sized SUVs.

According to the report, both car makers still saw overall declines, with GM's April sales down 11% from a year ago, and Ford sales off 7% while Chrysler Group contributed to the downtrend with an 8% sales decline last month.

"Ford can't sell trucks currently, and GM is not selling as many cars as it would like to," Paul Taylor, chief economist at the National Automobile Dealers Association, told Dow Jones, adding: "That is a problem of product and pricing, not a systemic problem of abandonment by consumers."

The news agency said the weakness among Detroit's auto makers in April outweighed continued sales increasing among top Japanese rivals and led to a 4.2% slump for US sales for the month, according to Autodata.

"The market for lower-priced, [more fuel-efficient] vehicles is showing strength," Toyota's US sales chief Jim Press reportedly said in a statement.

Dow Jones said Detroit's collective market share fell nearly three points to 53.6%, with GM suffering a decline from 25.1% in April 2005 to 23.4% at the end of last month. GM's competitors lost a half-point each, with Ford currently holding 17% of the market, while Chrysler has 13.2%.

Dow Jones said Toyota and Honda made 4.5% and 2.6% sales volume gains respectively - Toyota passed Chrysler as the No.3 auto maker in the US in terms of market share as it now boasts 14.2%.

Highlighting Ford's light truck slide, the Explorer, once the industry's SUV bellwether, saw a 42.1% sales decline last month and posted lower sales than its Escape sibling and Toyota's RAV-4 - both smaller "crossover" SUVs. Explorer sales are down 30% on the year, Dow Jones noted.

Overall, the US light-vehicle industry posted a 16.7m seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales, falling largely in line with analyst expectations for the month, Dow Jones said.

While April's SAAR significantly trailed April 2005's 17.2m SAAR, total light vehicle sales through four months remain flat with the same period a year ago, the news agency added.

 

In a statement, RL Polk raised the question of the potential for aftermarket business. Since 2000, there have been nearly 392,000 new hybrids registered in the US.

"With roughly 50% of that five-year volume coming in the last year, significant aftermarket opportunities aren't expected until 2009. Until then, franchised OEM dealerships will likely see the bulk of the repair business based on manufacturer warranties," said Lonnie Miller, the company's director of industry analysis.

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