U.S. auto sales fell 5.2 percent in January compared to a year ago, as Asian and European auto makers continued to pound General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and DaimlerChrysler AG, driving market share for the Big Three below 60 percent for the month, according to a Wall Street Journal story by Sholnn Freeman.

But on a brighter note for the industry, auto sales beat the projections of analysts who foresaw a sharper slowdown in the month, on the assumption that zero percent financing incentives pulled ahead hundreds of thousands of sales late last year.

In January 2002, new car and truck sales totaled 1,111,887 vehicles, down from 1,172,871 vehicles in January 2001. The results translated into a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 15.8 million vehicles for the month.

GM said sales fell 13 percent to 295,700 vehicles from January 2001. Sales at Ford dropped 10 percent, and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group brands suffered a 6.8 percent decline.

Japan's Toyota Motor Corp.'s U.S. sales climbed 7.1 percent compared with a year ago, while Honda Motor Co.'s sales fell 1.5 percent. Volkswagen AG's sales increased 5.2 percent. At Mitsubishi Motor Corp., which had aggressive

incentives in place, sales rocketed 20 percent. BMW AG increased sales of its luxury cars and sport utility vehicles by 16 percent. Korea's Hyundai Motor Co. outsold GM's Pontiac division, 27,126 vehicles to 25,212.

Collectively, the Big Three's share of the U.S. market was 59.2 percent in January, a loss of 4.5 percentage points from the month a year ago. Japanese makers added 2.3 points of share to nearly 30 percent of the market as they

continue to move into trucks and SUVs.

European and Korean manufacturers each picked up about one point of share for their respective groups. Their total gain in share was equivalent to about 48,000 vehicles in January.