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Tokyo, May 2 (Bloomberg) -- Honda Motor Co. led Asia-based automakers to an eighth month of market-share gains in the U.S. in April, as newer models appealed more to many consumers than no- interest loans and rebates offered by local rivals.

Honda, Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and other Asian carmakers increased their market share 1.6 percentage points to 32 percent, even as their overall sales fell 1.2 percent to 452,444, Autodata said.

``With Honda it's all about product,'' said George Peterson, president of industry researcher AutoPacific Inc. ``They've got a new Accord, Element and Pilot and the new Acura TSX, so they're nicely positioned to keep growing.''

The attraction of rebates and no-interest loans offered by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler is waning as buyers opt for newer models. Asian carmakers typically do better than U.S. rivals in quality surveys by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates.

U.S. sales of new cars and light trucks fell an estimated 6.2 percent to 1.41 million compared with April 2002, according to Autodata Corp. Honda, No. 5 automaker in the U.S., led all carmakers with an 11 percent increase, followed by Hyundai Motor Co. with an 8.7 percent gain.

Slumping Demand

As the market slumped, Toyota's sales fell 0.9 percent, while those of Nissan dropped 4.2 percent. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, had steeper declines of 8.7 percent, 6.7 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Honda's shares fell as much as 2.8 percent to 3,830 yen and were trading at 3,820 yen at 1:19 p.m. in Tokyo on concern about slumping U.S. demand. Demand for cars may fall from last year's 16.8 million units, automakers and investors said. Toyota shares fell as much as 1.1 percent to 2,640 yen.

``Japanese automakers are heavily reliant on the U.S. auto market as they rely bulk of their operating profit from that business,'' said Norihito Kanai, who helps manage the equivalent of $2.5 billion at Meiji Dresdner Asset Management Co. He expects total sales will fall to ``a little over'' 16 million units.

Honda sold 117,783 vehicles in the month, with Honda-brand cars and trucks rising 13 percent to 102,725 and its Acura division gaining 1.9 percent to 15,058. Acura was helped by the addition of the TSX sport sedan, which went on sale in April. Honda's market share rose 1.3 points to 7 percent.

Incentives

Toyota sold 151,784 vehicles. Toyota-brand sales declined 1.4 percent to 130,507, and sales of Lexus luxury cars rose 2.2 percent to 21,277. Toyota's market share improved 0.5 point from a year ago to 10.7 percent, even though it spent 75 percent less per car on incentives than General Motors, according to CNW Marketing Research.

General Motors led all automakers in April by spending $3,871 per vehicle on incentives, up 1.5 percent from March, after it extended no-interest loan offers to five years on almost all of its models, according to CNW. Ford spent $3,286 and Chrysler spent $3,294, about the same as in March, CNW said.

By comparison, Toyota's incentive spending was $2,207 per vehicle, up 5.4 percent, and Honda's was $996, almost even with March, according to CNW.

Nissan, Japan's No. 3 automaker, had a 4.2 percent decrease in combined sales of Nissan and Infiniti autos, Jed Connelly, Nissan's U.S. senior vice president, said in an interview. The maker of 350Z sports cars reported a 6.3 percent drop in Nissan brand vehicles, led by a 30 percent drop in sales of Altima sedans.

Confidence

Nissan's Infiniti division sales were 8,872, up 10.2 percent on demand for G-35 sport sedans and coupes and FX-45 sport-utility vehicles, Connelly said. Nissan, which ranks sixth in U.S. sales, had a 4.3 percent market share last month, up 0.1 point.

Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn estimates the U.S. automarket will be at 15.5 million units this year, while Honda Executive Vice President Koichi Amemiya last week forecast demand for ``16-million plus.''

Some investors said demand may recover later in the year. Consumer confidence in the U.S. in April jumped the most in 12 years as the war in Iraq wound down, energy costs fell and stock prices rose. Even so, a report today may show the U.S. economy lost jobs for a third month, according a Bloomberg News survey.

``The U.S. economic outlook is for a subdued recovery, so that is positive for autos,'' said Robert Howe, who oversees $2.5 billion in assets as a chief investment officer at AIG Global Investment Management Corp. in Tokyo. Japanese auto companies are gaining market share in the U.S. Nissan's new models will give it a lot of momentum there this year.''

Hyundai

Hyundai sold 35,001 vehicles, an 8.7 percent gain from April a year ago, led by demand for Sonata sedans and Santa Fe sport- utilities, which rose 22 percent and 62 percent, respectively. That increased Hyundai's market share 0.4 point to 2.5 percent.

Nissan shares rose as much as 2.3 percent to 933 yen in Tokyo. Hyundai shares rose as much as 1.6 percent to 29,150 won in Seoul.

Asian automakers have increased their share of the U.S. market from 24.6 percent at the end of 1997, according to Autodata. Each market-share point represents about 165,000 vehicles a year and as much as $1.16 billion in pretax operating revenue, according to J.P. Morgan Chase Securities analyst David Bradley.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. sold 24,762 vehicles, down 21 percent, as demand for new models such as the Outlander and Endeavor sport-utilities couldn't offset a sales drop for Lancer and Eclipse cars and Diamante sedans. The company's market share declined 0.3 point to 1.8 percent.

Mazda

Mazda Motor Corp., a third owned by Ford, reported a 12.4 percent decline to 19,674, as sales of Mazda6 sedans and Tribute sport-utility vehicles didn't offset a slowdown for MPV minivans and Miata roadsters. Mazda's share fell 0.1 point to 1.4 percent.

Hyundai's subsidiary Kia Motors Corp. reported sales of 19,542 cars and light trucks, down 7.7 percent from a year ago. Kia's share was unchanged at 1.4 percent.

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. sold 14,526 units, down 1.4 percent. Market share for the brand was unchanged at 1 percent.

Suzuki Motor Corp.'s sales slipped 4.1 percent to 5,981, though its market share was unchanged at 0.4 percent.

Isuzu Motors Ltd.'s sport-utility sales fell 46 percent to 2,451 last month, cutting its share 0.1 point to 0.2 percent.
 
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