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Automakers post steep US sales drops for March
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DETROIT — March proved to be another dismal month of steep declines for U.S. auto sales, as low consumer confidence and job uncertainty kept buyers away from showrooms.

General Motors Corp. led the slide with a 45 percent U.S. sales plunge compared with a year earlier, while Ford Motor Co. reported a 41 percent drop. Sales at Toyota Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC both dropped 39 percent, while Honda Motor Co. reported a 36 percent decline.

Detroit-based GM sold a total of 155,334 light vehicles, while Ford sold a total of 131,102. Ford's total came in slightly below that of Toyota, which reported U.S. sales of 132,802 units.

Despite the declines, GM, Ford and Toyota all posted double-digit improvements from February, when the U.S. sales overall hit their lowest point in more than 27 years.

Sales are generally better in March as warmer temperatures help drive people to showrooms, but analysts expect to see little improvement from February industrywide. That's despite a record level of incentive spending by automakers last month, according to

The average incentive on vehicles sold last month was $3,169, up 30 percent from a year earlier, the car buying Web site said. General Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. spent more on incentives than they ever have, while Ford said its incentive spending was the same as a year ago.

"Where we are starting to differentiate from our competitors is in the area," said Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of marketing and communications. "We're getting more traffic. We don't have to close everyone with incentives."

In a further effort to boost sales, Ford announced its "Advantage Program" Monday. It will pay customers' monthly payments — up to $700 — for a year if they lose their jobs.

The automaker said its car and crossover segment is doing well, with 61 percent of sales coming in that segment.

"People are still moving to the car and crossover segment, which we view is right in our sweet spot this year," said George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst.

Ford said demand for of its Focus fell 42 percent, while sales of the company's F-series pickup truck fell 40 percent. Sales of Ford's sport utility vehicles — namely the Expedition and Explorer — plummeted 73 percent.

The Associated Press reports unadjusted auto sales figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages adjusted for sales days. There were 25 sales days last month, one less than in March 2008.

In afternoon trading, GM shares dropped 10 cents, or 5.2 percent, to $1.84, while Ford shares were unchanged at $2.63. Toyota's U.S. shares rose $3.65, or 5.8 percent, to $66.95 and Honda's U.S. shares jumped $1.91, or 8.1 percent, to $25.61.

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