By Shawn Langlois, MarketWatch
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC all handed in double-digit July U.S. sales declines Friday that were worse than many had feared, with another steep drop in truck and SUV sales casting an even longer shadow across the rest of the year.
The latest numbers show an industry unable to catch a break from the effects of record-high gas prices and a housing crisis in the U.S. that has sapped consumer sentiment and raised the bar for credit of any kind.
And it's not as if customers were fleeing the domestics for offerings from the Japanese auto manufacturers. Toyota Motor Corp. /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM -0.50% reported an 11.9% drop, and Honda Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC +0.25% , which was expected to post gain, saw its July sales fall 1.6%.
"This has been a really interesting month," Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell said. "Honda down, Nissan up, and yet another disappointing month from Toyota, which is starting to look a lot like just another American auto maker."
'We are in a period that feels a lot like 1991 and '92, and we had similar issues with a recession at that point in time.'
Mike DiGiovanni, GM
Still, at GM /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM +9.41% , the damage was far worse. The Detroit giant said light-vehicle sales dropped 26.1% to 233,340 units. Light-truck sales were to blame, falling 34.7% to 129,849 vehicles.
By the time all the industry reports were tallied, the light-vehicle SAAR had come to 12.55 million cars and trucks versus 15.48 million last July, marking the lowest level since April of 1992, according to Autodata.
"We are in a period that feels a lot like 1991 and '92, and we had similar issues with a recession at that point in time," GM sales analyst Mike DiGiovanni.
General Motors earlier in the day reported another massive quarterly loss as the auto-buying public's shift away from GM's profitable truck and SUV lines gathered momentum. See full story.
Ford /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F +3.20% fared only slightly better on the sales front. The maker of the Blue Oval brand said it sold 161,530 vehicles last month, down 14.9% from 189,920 a year ago.
Ford, Lincoln and Mercury combined car sales rose 7.8% to 57,177 units as consumers opted for more fuel-efficient alternatives to the bigger vehicles.
The truck side saw sales fall 22.1% to 99,229 vehicles with the F-Series continuing its steady retreat. The flagship pickup posted a 20.6% decline to 44,829 vehicles. The Volvo brand, Ford's lone remaining upscale European nameplate, reported a 46% drop to 5,124 vehicles.
Ford is looking for 2008 industry sales in a range from 14 million to 14.5 million cars and trucks, mostly in line with Wall Street targets. The first half came in at about 15 million.
"We expect the second half of 2008 will be more challenging than the first half as economic and credit conditions weaken," Jim Farley, head of marketing for Ford, said.
Chrysler, which relies more heavily on trucks and SUVs than its rivals, fell hardest of all, down 28.8% to 98,109 vehicles from 137,728 a year ago. Car sales slid 25.5% to 25,839 from 34,680, while truck sales declined by 29.9% to 72,270 from 103,048.