Automakers reported sharply lower U.S. sales for March 2009, hurt by decline in vehicle demand amid mounting job losses and near record low consumer confidence. Some of the largest automakers in the world, including GM, Toyota, and Ford reported significant drop in sales for March. General Motors Corp. (GM) reported a 44.7% drop in March sales, Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) sales fell 39.0%, and Ford Motor Co. (F) sales decreased 40.9%.

Detroit, Michigan-based GM's total vehicle sales for March 2009 declined 44.7% to 156,380 units from 282,732 units in the prior year month.

There were 25 selling days in March 2009, compared to 26 selling days in last March.

Total car sales dropped 41.3% to 68,877 units, while total truck sales fell 47.1% to 87,503 units from the year-ago month.

In March, GM North America produced 170,000 vehicles, including 73,000 cars and 97,000 trucks, down 28.0% from last year when the region produced 237,000 vehicles, including 124,000 cars and 113,000 trucks.

GM inventories dropped from a year ago. At the end of March, only about 765,000 vehicles were in stock, down 12% from a year earlier. There were about 332,000 cars and 433,000 trucks, including crossovers, in inventory at the end of March.

GM certified total sales for March 2009 were down, impacted by the challenging economic environment. GM Certified Used Vehicles, the industry's top-selling certified brand, posted March sales of 28,000 vehicles, down 27% from March 2008. Saturn Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles sold 974 vehicles, down 6%. Saab Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles sold 436 vehicles, down 16%.

However, Hummer Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles posted strong results, with 44% growth in sales, and 203 vehicles were sold during the month.

We had a strong close at the end of the month as customers responded to strong incentives, President Obama's positive statements about GM, and the government backing domestic warranties, said Mark LaNeve, vice president, GM North America Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing.

Last month, GM reported a 52.9% drop in February sales. The company said it has delivered 127,296 vehicles in February 2009, down from 270,423 vehicles last year.

For the calendar year-to-date period, GM reported total vehicle sales of 412,903 units, down 48.8% from 805,720 units in the prior year period.

Total car sales fell 49.4% to 166,633 units, while total truck sales dropped 48.3% to 246,270 units from the previous year period.

For the first quarter, GM now expects North America's production to be about 372,000 vehicles, including 116,000 cars and 256,000 trucks, which is down about 58% from prior year.

Earlier, the company estimated North America's production to be about 380,000 vehicles, including 118,000 cars and 262,000 trucks.

For the second quarter, GM continues to expect North America production to be 550,000 vehicles, including 195,000 cars and 355,000 trucks, which is down about 34% from last year.

The U.S. market continues to be difficult for every automaker, with consumer confidence weak and credit conditions almost frozen. In order to lure the customers, the automakers have come out with attractive incentives and offers.

GM and Ford announced new rounds of incentives, including payment protection on vehicle loans for job losers, to boost customer confidence and jump-start vehicle sales. The offers, which are in addition to zero-percent financing, come at a time when U.S. auto sales are at their lowest levels in at least 27 years.

Chrysler LLC also started offering 0% financing, rebates, employee pricing and discounts of up to $6,000 in January.

GM and Chrysler LLC, which are pushed to the brink of bankruptcy amid dwindling sales, higher operating costs and huge debts, are surviving on $17.4 billion of government loans and have requested for an additional $21.6 billion more. Ford has not sought any government funding to survive.

President Barack Obama said Monday the restructuring plans offered by GM and Chrysler do not go far enough to warrant additional government assistance and asked the two automakers to accelerate their survival efforts to access more funding or else face bankruptcy.

GM was given 60 days to come up with a new restructuring plan in order to receive more federal aid, while Chrysler was given 30 days to complete a merger with Italy's Fiat because it was not considered viable as a stand-alone company.

Meanwhile, GM's new CEO Fritz Henderson said Tuesday that more of the automaker's plants could close as part of the company's effort to meet new, tougher requirements for government aid. That's in addition to the five plants the company said it would shut down when it submitted a restructuring plan to the government last month.

Henderson took over as GM CEO Monday, replacing Rick Wagoner who resigned at the request of the Obama administration.

Speaking at his first news conference as CEO, Henderson also said if agreements can't be reached with the unions, bondholders and other parties, a decision on bankruptcy would be made in consolation with the Obama auto task force.

Among others in the industry, Toyota Motor reported March 2009 sales that declined 39.0% to 132,802 units from 217,730 units in the prior year month. The Toyota Division posted March sales of 118,563 units, a decrease of 38.5% from the same period last year. The Lexus Division reported March sales of 14,239 units, a decrease of 42.9% from the year-ago month.

Another peer, Ford Motor posted a 40.9% drop in March U.S. sales. The automaker sold 131,465 vehicles in March, down from 222,337 vehicles sold in the same month last year.

GM is currently trading at $1.87, down 7 cents or 3.61%, on a volume of 49.44 million shares. The stock has been moving in a range of $1.27 - $24.24 for the past 52 weeks, with an average daily volume of about 17.63 million shares for the past three months.

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