The US cash-for-clunkers scheme, which pumped $3bn (£1.8bn) of taxpayer subsidies into the world's largest car market, strengthened foreign car manufacturers and Ford at the expense of the two companies explicitly backed by the government.
Chrysler, which has been part-owned by the US government and operated by Fiat since it went bankrupt in the spring, saw sales in its home market slide a worse-than-expected 15 per cent in August. It had shut down factories during the bankruptcy process, which meant that dealers ran short of stock.
But Ford sales jumped 17 per cent, lead by a surge in demand for the Focus compact car. The number of Focuses sold – 25,547 – was a record for August, up 56 per cent on the same month last year. It was one of the top-selling vehicles in the clunkers scheme, which handed up to $4,000 to drivers who bought a fuel-efficient vehicle and left their old car for scrap.
Analysts said that overall sales in August appeared moderately disappointing, compared with forecasts. Most manufacturers still say they will ramp up production for the remainder of the year, despite concerns that the end of the clunkers scheme last week would cause demand to drop as suddenly as it surged.
In one optimistic sign, Ford said yesterday that it had seen an uptick in sales of its expensive pick-up trucks for the first time since 2006. "We're very pleased with the balanced performance of our products — from Focus to F-Series," Ken Czubay, the company's vice president of marketing, sales and service in the US, said. "We are hopeful that the sales of our pick-ups and new Transit Connect are an indication that small business owners are seeing signs of recovery and gaining confidence in the outlook for stronger business conditions."
The disappointing performance of Chrysler came as its former private equity owners faced more embarrassment yesterday.
Cerberus Capital, which acquired Chrysler from the German firm Daimler in 2006 but failed to stop it from falling into bankruptcy, was battling heavy losses and investor redemptions at a flagship hedge fund.