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GM's Sales Advance; Toyota, Ford Sputter

January sales rise a surprise 2.6% for GM.
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Updated from 12:56 p.m. EST

General Motors

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managed to eke out sales gains in January, while chief rivals


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saw sales slide amid a tough macroeconomic climate in the U.S.

GM, the nation's No. 1 auto seller, said Friday that its U.S. light-vehicle sales increased 2.6% in January to 250,926 vehicles.

Light-truck sales jumped 4.3% to 146,552 units. Car sales inched up 0.2% to 104,374 vehicles.

GM's car sales have been dented over the past year as it has been cutting back on car sales to rental agencies, which are less profitable than retail sales. The company said, however, that its retail car sales in January surged 31%.

"January's performance strongly indicates that, along with our great market position in trucks and crossovers, GM is back in the car business," said Mark LaNeve, vice president, GM North American vehicle sales, service and marketing. "Our new launch vehicles, including the award-winning Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac CTS had a sensational month, as did the Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5 and G6, Saturn AURA, Buick Lacrosse and Cadillac STS."

The gains come amid what was expected to be an extremely tough month for automakers as the U.S. deals with a consumer spending slowdown that has cut demand for big-ticket purchases.

Toyota, typically a strong performer while Detroit's automakers falter, saw its U.S. sales slide 2.3% last month, pulled down by weakness in its Lexus division.

The Toyota division reported January sales of 151,550 vehicles, down 1.4% from a year earlier. Lexus division sales tumbled 8.2% to 20,299 units.

"On the retail front, consumers are sitting in the catbird's seat, with falling interest rates and a competitive market giving rise to showroom values," said Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales USA president.

Ford's U.S. sales slid 4.1% in January, pulled down by a plunge in car sales and weakness in its specialty brands.

The automaker sold 159,914 vehicles in the month, compared with 166,835 in January 2007. Truck sales fell 1% to 109,838 trucks, while car sales tumbled 10.3% to 50,076 vehicles.

Ford said it was "very pleased" with the results.

"It's not going to get any easier -- at least for awhile," said Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president, marketing and communications. "Recent monetary actions and the proposed stimulus package may help the economy later this year, but we're not pinning our hopes on that. Our plan is based on restructuring our business to be profitable at lower demand and changed mix while also accelerating the development of new products people want to buy."

Ford's namesake brand recorded only a 0.7% decline in sales to 131,074 vehicles. But the company's smaller divisions combined to pull down the overall results.

The Lincoln and Mercury division reported a 22.2% plunge in vehicle sales. Sales of Jaguars and Land Rovers -- two brands Ford has put up for sale -- fell 52.2% and 16.7%, respectively.

The Volvo brand recorded a 2.9% sales increase to 8,036 vehicles.

Shares of Ford recently were up 20 cents, or 3%, to $6.84. GM shares were advancing 39 cents, or 1.4%, to $28.60.

This article was written by a staff member of