Toyota's Sales Jump While GM, Ford Fall

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 2:31 AM

DETROIT -- The best monthly sales performance ever for Toyota and gains by fellow Japanese automakers Honda and Nissan helped the industry in March top last year's best month for U.S. sales despite declines by GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler.

Toyota's U.S. sales jumped 11.7 percent in March compared with a year ago, boosted by record hybrid sales and strong overall car sales. Industrywide, light vehicle sales by major automakers rose 0.8 percent to 1.54 million, Autodata Corp. said Tuesday.

The overall rise in U.S. sales came despite GM and DaimlerChrysler's sales falling about 4 percent each, and Ford posting a 9 percent drop. Ford still held off Toyota for the No. 2 U.S. sales spot for the month, and Ford regained from GM the claim to having the nation's top-selling pickup truck, even though F-series sales fell 15.1 percent.

The numbers come as the Detroit Three have seen Asian rivals led by Toyota capture growing shares of the U.S. market. Autodata's figures show GM, the world's largest automaker, had 22.4 percent of the U.S. market in March, with Ford holding 17.1 percent and Toyota with 15.7 percent. Still, GM and Ford said sales of their newer vehicles generally improved.

Jesse Toprak, chief economist for the auto Web site, said the Japanese automakers will continue to prop up the broader sales picture. At year's end, he estimates GM's share at 24 percent, Toyota's at 17 percent and Ford's at 15 percent.

"The trend for the rest of the year will continue, but the growth for Toyota will slow down somewhat," Toprak said.

In all, Toyota Motor Corp. sold 242,675 Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the U.S., including 140,009 cars, up 19.4 percent from the same month a year ago, and 102,666 trucks, a 2.7 percent increase. So far this year, Toyota has sold 61,635 hybrids in the U.S., up 68 percent from the first three months of last year. That includes 28,453 hybrids last month.

"This month marks a milestone eight years in the making," Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota's U.S. division, said in a statement. "Record U.S. sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrids have now topped the half-million mark."

Toyota's previous best sales month was last July, when it sold 241,826 vehicles in the U.S.

Detroit-based General Motors Corp., which saw its fleet sales drop for the month as it works to cut low-profit sales to rental car companies, sold 345,418 light vehicles, including 136,866 cars, up 2.3 percent, and 208,552 trucks, down 7.7 percent.

GM said sales of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, GMC Acadia crossover and Saturn Outlook sport utility vehicle were exceeding its expectations. Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, said the results highlighted a strong start for its crossovers, including the Acadia.

"We have new product that's being accepted in the marketplace," Ballew said in conference call with industry analysts and reporters.

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