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Asian automakers gather speed

Los Angeles, Jan. 4 (Agencies): Honda Motor, Toyota Motor and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG had their highest US sales ever in 2002 as Asian and European automakers lifted their share of the world’s top auto market to a record 38 per cent.

Combined market share for US-based General Motors, Ford Motor Co and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler fell to a low of 61.7 per cent for the year despite higher sales for all three in December. Asia-based automakers increased their share to a record 31.3 per cent while European brands picked up 0.4 points to end the year with 6.9 per cent.

US consumers bought 16.8 million cars and light trucks in 2002, down 2 per cent from the year before. December sales reached an annual rate of 18.3 million, the second-highest level of the year behind August’s 18.7 million, according to Autodata Corp.

“It was a tremendous year for the whole industry despite early concerns of a sharp drop” from 2001, said Jim Press, chief operating officer of Toyota’s US sales unit, in an interview at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. “Consumers really responded, though they may not be able to sustain that pace this year.”

Honda, the fifth-biggest automaker in the US, said sales of Honda and Acura vehicles rose 3.3 per cent for the year to 1.25 million, and improved 10 per cent in December to 1,00,736. The Tokyo- based company raised its market share for the year 0.4 points to 7.4 per cent.

Toyota, the world’s third-largest automaker, said full-year sales of its Toyota and Lexus brands rose 0.9 per cent to a record 1.76 million vehicles, a seventh consecutive year of US gains. The automaker posted a 2 per cent increase in December to 1,41,491 units on higher demand for light trucks and luxury Lexus division cars and trucks. Toyota, fourth in US sales, ended the year with a 10.4 per cent share of the market, up 0.3 per cent.

Among European automakers, BMW raised its sales of BMW and mini brands of cars and trucks by 8.9 per cent to 2,32,032, aided by a 43 per cent improvement in December to 26,252. BMW’s annual share grew to 1.4 per cent from 1.2 per cent in 2001.

Sales of DaimlerChrysler’s Mercedes-Benz luxury cars and sport utilities rose 10 per cent to 21,288 in December and 3.2 per cent to 2,13,225 for the year. The brand held 1.3 per cent of the market last year, a 0.1 point improvement.

Volkswagen AG’s combined sales of VW and luxury Audi autos fell 3.9 per cent to 4,25,851 last year, with VW brand sales slipping 4.9 per cent to 3,38,125 and Audi improving 2.9 per cent to 85,726. The two brands held 2.5 per cent of the US market, down 0.6 points from a year earlier.

US-based automakers, which posted improved sales in December, had declines for the full year. GM reported a 36 per cent increase for the month to 4,67,475 while annual sales fell 0.9 per cent to 4.79 million.

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