US auto makers hit by Asian competitors

2006 has been a year of declining sales for Ford, General Motors (GM) and Chrysler — the "gig three" US auto makers have continued to lose ground to Asian rivals.

During the year the world's largest auto maker, GM reported a loss of 8.7 per cent, followed by an 8 per cent decline reported by Ford, the former global No.2 who lost out to Toyota in 2003, but continued as the second largest in US sales. Chrysler, the third of the "big three" saw its sales slide 5 per cent.

By contrast Japanese automaker Toyota reported a rise of 12.9 per cent in its annual sales by 12.9 per cent and Honda Motor Co said its sales rose 3.5 per cent.

Rising fuel prices have shifted buyer preferences from the large gas-guzzling American cars — US auto makers have suffered from the decline in demand for SUVs and trucks — to the smaller and more fuel-efficient cars produced by Asian auto makers.

GM was the worst hit; its car sales fell by 1.6 per cent and truck sales declined by 19 per cent. Its decline was higher than expected, particularly since in November GM registered the highest sales growth of 293,558 vehicles or 6.1 per cent in the over its sales in November 2005 — the highest sales by volume.

US auto sales in 2006
2.9 million
down 8%
4.0 million
down 8.7%
2.4 million
down 5%
2.5 million
up 12.9%

Toyota, which has already overtaken Ford in the world market, is widely expected to take GM's crown as the world's leading automaker in 2007. and topple Ford in even US sales during 2007.

To cope with declining US sales Ford and GM have unveiled major restructuring drives in a bid to return to profitability. GM has plans to cut 30,000 jobs, while Ford is due to cut around 38,000 jobs, while Toyota has plans to build six new factories around the world by the end of the decade.