- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2006

DETROIT (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp. rode its reputation for fuel-efficient cars to a double-digit sales increase in July and outsold Ford in the United States for the first month ever. Honda Motor Co. also reported robust sales.

U.S. automakers experienced a moribund July as sales plummeted from a year ago, when heavy discounts spurred a near record month for the auto industry.

For General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group, the steepest declines were in trucks and sport utility vehicles, the high-margin items on which the three companies are heavily dependent. Both Honda and Toyota credited their reputations for fuel efficiency and strength in small cars for boosting them during a period when retail gasoline prices have been near $3 per gallon in most parts of the country.

Overall, 1.49 million vehicles were sold last month, a 17.4 percent decrease from July 2005. The seasonally adjusted sales rate, which shows what total sales would be if they remained at the same rate for the entire year, was 17.24 million, according to Autodata Corp. Automakers sold 17 million vehicles in 2005.

GM, the world’s largest automaker, said its sales fell 22.2 percent, with trucks falling 31.2 percent and cars inching down 2.7 percent.

At Ford, sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles fell 35.2 percent. Truck sales tumbled 44.8 percent, while cars slipped 6.7 percent. Sales of F-Series pickup trucks, long the country’s best-selling vehicle and the company’s most important vehicle, shot down 45.6 percent.

DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group said its sales fell 37.4 percent, with truck sales off 40 percent and car sales off 23.5 percent. That change happened even though Chrysler, alone among automakers, has revived the employee price promotion that fueled sales last year.

Chrysler announced yesterday that it would extend the discount program through August. Company officials said the promotion was helping, though not as much as last year, when all three domestic automakers were doing it and each benefited from the advertising of the others.

Toyota’s sales, meanwhile, soared 11.7 percent, with cars jumping 19.8 percent and trucks up 1.3 percent. The company outsold Ford by more than 17,000 vehicles.

David Lucas, vice president of Autodata, said it was the first time Toyota had sold more vehicles than Ford.

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