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‘Cash for clunkers’ program lifts Ford sales

BLOOMBERG AND AP , CHICAGO

Surging demand from the government’s “cash for clunkers” program has helped lift Ford Motor Co to its first monthly increase in two years, the company’s top sales analyst said on Sunday.

Last month’s sales results mark the first year-on-year gain for Ford since November 2007 and apparently the first uptick by any of the six biggest carmakers since last August, George Pipas said.

He declined to disclose a specific total before sales results were officially reported yesterday. Michigan-based Ford sold 161,071 vehicles in July last year, down 15 percent from a year earlier.

The increase further testifies to the successful reception of the government rebate program, which US President Barack Obama signed into law on June 24 as part of a broad US$106 billion spending bill.

“We were having a good month — and Ford’s been having some good months lately — but the [clunkers] program really put us over the top for sure,” Pipas said in a telephone interview.

The government’s Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) was designed to get old, polluting vehicles off the road and scrapped, while helping car dealers emerge from the recession. Owners of gas-guzzlers could receive rebates of US$3,500 or US$4,500 toward the purchase of a new fuel-efficient car. The program proved wildly popular and led to the sale of 250,000 new vehicles in just days.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Sunday he expects the US$1 billion pool, which had been expected to last until November, to be exhausted by the end of this weekend.

The House on Friday approved an additional US$2 billion, shifting funds from a renewable energy loan program, and the Obama administration is pressing the Senate to go along before its summer vacation begins at week’s end.

If the Senate does not approve the additional funding, the program will have to be suspended.

Pipas said the increase in last month’s sales is “some indication that consumers are getting their feet on the ground again ... I think it indicates that maybe the worst is behind us, sales-wise.”

Last month’s sales also make it the ninth month in the last 10 that Ford has posted a gain in market share, he said.

For the first half, US sales were down 35 percent. But results due out yesterday were expected to show that last month was 11 percent better than June and the strongest month of the year.

Meanwhile, General Motors Co (GM), the largest overseas automaker in China, boosted sales 78 percent last month as Chinese stimulus measures and a rebounding economy spurred demand.

Sales totaled 144,593 vehicles, the Detroit-based company said in a statement yesterday. Sales at SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co (上汽通用五菱汽車) rose 91 percent from a year earlier to 87,925.

Wuling has benefited from government subsidies designed to boost auto sales in rural areas.

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