DaimlerChrysler#;s Mercedes-Benz passenger cars and Smart city cars division sold 292,500 vehicles in the first quarter of 2002, again exceeding the previous year's high level, the company said in a statement accompanying first quarter groups financial results.

Revenues also increased, by seven percent to $10.4 billion and operating profit of $569 million was close to the previous year's level ($584 million), despite substantial expenditure for the model changeover of the E-Class and the CLK coupe and the resulting lower contributions to earnings from these models.

Sales of 264,100 Mercedes-Benz cars exceeded expectations, nearly equalling the previous year's record results.

Sales in Germany declined by two percent but in Western Europe (excluding Germany) rose by three percent. Sales in the United States also increased - by seven percent.

DC said that, despite overall market shrinkage in nearly all of its key markets, Mercedes-Benz was able “as anticipated to gain market share and strengthen its competitive position.”

M-B also expects to perform better than its markets for full-year 2002.

The strong 11 percent increase in sales of the compact A-class (not offered in the US) to 47,200 vehicles was primarily due to the high demand for the new long-wheelbase version, DC#;s statement said.

C-class sales were described as “very positive” (102,000 vehicles, +15 percent) due to strong demand for the station wagon and sports coupe.

The performance of the long-awaited new SL roadster was “extremely positive”, with 7,700 sold in Q1 2002 (Q1 2001: 1,300).

S-class sales remained “stable”, DC said, without providing any figures in its statement. However, US market watchers note that the Mercedes flagship – launched in 1999 - is showing a decline as newer competition steals market share.

DC was no more forthcoming about the “lifecycle-related decline” in E-class sales, again declining to put numbers in its statement.

The redesigned E-class sedan was only available from the middle of March in Europe and the US and doesn#;t make its right-hand drive debut in the UK and the Far East until August at the earliest.

Smart sales increased 13 percent in the first quarter to 28,400 cars while Chrysler retail sales were down seven percent at 675,800 units.

DC said the decline mainly reflects a generally weak US economy and increased competiton as industry incentives remained relatively high.

Dodge Ram pickup sales increased 10% from the prior year to 93,700 units but US minivan and passenger car sales decreased five percent and 10 percent in the quarter compared with the previous year.

Factory shipments increased seven percent to 704,800 vehicles in the first quarter of 2002, which DC said reflects “growing dealer confidence in the Chrysler Group”.

In the US, Chrysler Group had a 59-day supply of vehicles.

The increase in vehicle shipments and appreciation of the US dollar against the euro led to a 17 percent increase in revenues, to 0.9 billion. Adjusted for one-time effects, operating profit totalled $111 million at Chrysler, the first positive result after six quarters.

This improvement of $1.3 billion was primarily due to an improved cost structure and increased vehicle shipments.

As a result of the worldwide decline in demand for commercial vehicles, sales of this division fell, as expected, to 101,700.

Bus sales increased by three percent over Q1 2001 but Freightliner's sales remained low due to the state of the market and Mercedes-Benz trucks and vans business units recorded sales declines of 15 percent and 18 percent respectively.

“Incoming orders are beginning to show a more positive trend,” DC said in its statement.

Revenues of $5.3 billion were below the prior year's level (-6 percent) and, particularly due to lower charges from Freightliner, the division's operating loss fell from $120 million to $74 million.

DC said that the turnaround plan at Freightliner is running to schedule and, of the savings of $450 million planned for the year 2002, a figure of $400 million is already certain.

Revenues generated by DaimlerChrysler Services were slightly lower than in the first quarter of 2001 at $3.4 billion. Operating profit was higher at $2.2 billion (+479 percent).

Adjusted to exclude the one-time gain on the sale of the remaining stake in T-Systems ITS (formerly debis Systemhaus) and the one-time expense as a result of the crisis in Argentina, operating profit increased to $155 million (Q1 2001: $130 million).

This improved profitability is explained by the beginnings of economic recovery in the United States and the reduced need for additional provisioning, especially for Freightliner vehicles.

Mitsubishi Motors' first-quarter sales in Japan in the first three months of 2002 fell to 138,500 vehicles in a generally weak market.

In the US market, after its best-ever year in 2001, Mitsubishi was able to improve its position, setting a new quarterly record of 90,300 passenger cars sold.

“Mitsubishi Motors continues to make good progress with the reduction of material costs and fixed costs as part of the implementation of its turnaround plan.

“For its last financial year, which ended on March 31, 2002, Mitsubishi Motors expects to have achieved its announced breakeven,” the DaimlerChrysler statement said.