"These segments could get tougher before they get better," said Randy Pflughaupt, vice president of marketing for Toyota's U.S. division.
Ford said sales of its crossovers were brisk in February, but buyers shunned its large sedans and SUVs. Combined sales of Ford's largest SUVs were down 22 percent in February. Ford's car sales dropped 9 percent while truck sales fell 5 percent. The automaker's sales decreased 5.5 percent for the first two months of the year.
Ford said it will cut shifts at factories in Chicago, Louisville, Ky., and Cleveland by this summer and reduce North American production by 10 percent in the second quarter to 730,000 vehicles. The Chicago factory makes the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable sedans and Taurus X crossover vehicle, while the Louisville Assembly plant makes the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles. The Cleveland plant makes engines.
Ford's top U.S. sales analyst, George Pipas, said consumers have been moving away from larger sedans such as the Taurus for the last two years. Taurus sales fell 26 percent in February, while sales of the compact Focus rose 11 percent.
"It's not just a Ford thing," Pipas said. "All the action in the passenger car market has been in the small-size category and the mid-size category."
Chrysler LLC said its car sales rose 9 percent, largely on the strength of small cars such as the Dodge Caliber subcompact, which was up 10 percent for the month, and the mid-size Dodge Avenger, which rose 60 percent. But its truck sales fell 22 percent. Chrysler's newly redesigned Dodge Caravan minivan was down a disappointing 32 percent for the month.
Nissan Motor Co. said its sales rose 1 percent thanks to a strong showing by its Versa subcompact. Like other automakers, Nissan also reported strong crossover sales, with its recently redesigned Murano up 6 percent. Ford's Edge crossover gained 46 percent for the month, while GM's GMC Acadia rose 33 percent.
Automakers responded to the weakness in February by increasing incentive spending, a trend that's expected to continue through the summer, according to Jesse Toprak, chief industry analyst for the auto information site Edmunds.com. The average incentive per vehicle was $2,435 in February, up 8 percent from the year before. Toprak said European automakers were particularly aggressive with incentives, helped by the strength of the euro.
The Associated Press reports unadjusted figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages adjusted for sales days. There were 25 sales days last month and 24 in February 2007.
GM shares fell 8 cents to $23.20 while Ford shares lost 35 cents, or 5.4 percent, to $6.18 and Toyota's U.S. shares gained 53 cents to $109.08.
On the Net:
Chrysler LLC: http://www.chrysler.com
Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com
General Motors Corp.: http://www.gm.com
Nissan Motor Co.: http://www.nissandriven.com
Toyota Motor Corp.: http://www.toyota.com