Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Economy, gas prices affect sales of vehicles

By Alex Gary | BusinessRockford.com

Chrysler vehicles sit in a lot Oct. 10, 2007, at Chrysler's assembly plant in Belvidere."> (photo) Chrysler strike 3
Chrysler vehicles sit in a lot Oct. 10, 2007, at Chrysler's assembly plant in Belvidere.

The fortunes of the large General Motors SUVs made in Janesville and the fuel-efficient Chrysler vehicles assembled in Belvidere flip-flopped in November as gas prices headed higher and worries over the economy increased.

According to sales figures released Monday, Chrysler dealers in the United States sold 13,195 Dodge Calibers, Jeep Compasses and Jeep Patriots in November.

Although sales of the Caliber and Compass were down compared to last November, the sales of the Patriot pushed the total amount 23 percent above November 2006 when only the Caliber and Compass were available.

Still, the monthly total was the fourth-lowest so far in 2007 and Chrysler LLC reported sales as a whole fell 2 percent.

Darryl Jackson, Chrysler’s vice president of U.S. sales, said sales in the United States doesn’t paint a true picture of the success of the three vehicles put together by about 3,600 workers at Chrysler’s assembly plant in Belvidere.

“As I cautioned last month, the Compass is doing very well outside North America. The Patriot is just getting its sea legs internationally, and the Dodge Caliber is our No. 1 nameplate outside of the U.S.,” Jackson said. “Workers in Belvidere should be secure in knowing they are building three models that are selling well globally.”

Still, the company announced in November that it will eliminate the third shift in Belvidere and lay off about 1,000 workers in the first quarter of 2008 because the plant is producing more Calibers, Compasses and Patriots than dealers can sell.

The news from GM wasn’t as positive. Overall sales were down 11 percent, hurt by falling demand for trucks. Dealers fared even worse on the large SUVs built in Janesville, Wis., and in Texas, with sales of the Chevy Suburban and Tahoe and GMC Yukon and Yukon XL dropping more than 31 percent compared to November 2006.

Sales of those models were up more than 25 percent compared to 2006 in both September and October.

In total, dealers in the U.S. sold 22,367 of the big SUVs, the lowest monthly total since January.

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