For the first time in nearly three decades, General Motors Corp. lagged well behind Ford Motor Co. in U.S. sales for July because of the recent strikes that crippled its North American production.
GM's July sales, reported Wednesday, were 39 percent lower than a year ago. For the year so far, the No. 1 automaker's sales were 0.3 percent weaker than at this point in 1997.
Ford sold 88,673 more vehicles than GM last month, based on Ford's results released Tuesday. That caused GM's July market share to plummet to 20 percent, compared with 31 percent for all of 1997.
Car sales for GM fell 46 percent from a year ago, while truck sales declined 28 percent.
The last time GM's monthly sales and market share trailed Ford's was during the final three months of 1970, due to the effects of the last nationwide strike against the automaker.
Two United Auto Workers strikes virtually shut down GM's production in July. The strikes at two parts plants in Flint, Mich., were settled July 28, and the company's assembly plants are just gearing back up.
"August will be well down as we restart our plants," Ron Zarrella, GM's sales and marketing chief said Tuesday. "It's a question of how fast we can get momentum going again in September and through the rest of the year."
For the year, GM's market share will be below 30 percent, but not well below, he predicted.
In the early '70s, GM's market share was around 45 percent. But the UAW's national strike caused GM's share to plummet to 27.6 percent in October 1970, 18.3 percent in November and 24.4 percent in December.
Ford reported its U.S. sales fell 4 percent in July. Continuing strong demand for its pickups and sport utility vehicles helped boost light truck sales 6 percent over the year-ago level, but that was not enough to offset a 17 percent decline in car sales.
Ford attributed the decline to a 27 percent drop in less-profitable sales to rental and business fleets. Total retail sales were up slightly.
Last month's end of generous "owner loyalty" rebates that helped drive up sales in May and June also may have been a factor in Ford's sales decline. Ford also seemed to get less of a benefit than analysts had expected from the recent GM strikes.
In other vehicle sales:
- Nissan Motor Corp., the Japanese automaker that has been trying to reverse a long downward sales trend, reported its U.S. sales rose 10 percent last month, as $2,000 rebates helped boost its car sales 21 percent.
- Chrysler reported Monday that its July sales were up 3 percent.
- One of the strongest performances last month was by Volkswagen, which said its U.S. sales more than doubled last month for its best July in 18 years. VW cannot build enough new Beetles to meet demand, and the Bug's luster apparently is helping sell other models as well. VW's redesigned Passat last month sold three times the rate that the old model did a year ao.