- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

DETROIT (AP) — Toyota’s U.S. sales jumped 11.7 percent last month, boosted by record hybrid sales and strong overall car sales, and fellow Japanese automakers Honda and Nissan both reported solid gains.

But GM’s sales fell 4 percent, while Ford posted a 9 percent decline and DaimlerChrysler fell 4.1 percent.

Yesterday’s numbers came as domestic automakers watched their Asian rivals capture growing shares of the U.S. market. Despite its decline, Ford 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.

In all, Toyota sold 242,675 light vehicles in the United States, 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 United States, up 68 percent from the first three months of last year. That includes 28,453 hybrids last month.

“Record U.S. sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrids have now topped the half-million mark,” said Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota’s U.S. unit.

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 vehicles 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,” Mr. Ballew said in a conference call with industry analysts and reporters.

Ford Motor Co.’s sales of 263,684 light vehicles included 174,200 trucks, down 5.9 percent from the same month a year ago, and 89,484 cars, down 14.6 percent. But Dearborn-based Ford said its new midsize cars — including the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ — and its new Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers sold well.

DaimlerChrysler AG sold 228,047 vehicles in the United States last month. Its Chrysler Group’s passenger vehicle sales, which include the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, fell 4.6 percent to 206,435. Mercedes-Benz sales rose 1 percent to a March record of 21,612.

Chrysler Group said it sold 52,625 cars in March, down 2.6 percent from a year ago, and 153,810 trucks, down 5.3 percent.

The figures come a day before DaimlerChrysler’s shareholders meet in Germany amid intense speculation about a potential sale of the Chrysler division. Prospects for Chrysler have been a hot topic since DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche first publicly floated the idea in February.

American Honda Motor Co., which includes Honda and Acura brands, said it is on track for another record U.S. sales year. It sold 143,392 light vehicles last month — an 11.3 percent increase. Like Toyota, Honda said it had gains in hybrid sales, but credited the overall increase on public perception about fuel efficiency across its line.

Nissan North America Inc., which includes Nissan and Infiniti, sold 111,119 vehicles last month, up 7.8 percent from March 2006, as car sales jumped 18 percent to 62,251, offsetting a 2.9 percent slide in truck sales to 48,868.

Industrywide, Toyota has been gaining market share in the United States, riding on the success of cars such as the Camry, widely seen as reliable and fuel efficient, while the Detroit Three of GM, Ford and Chrysler have worked to turn around their North American operations.

Analysts predict that Toyota will continue to make gains this year and likely will knock Ford off its traditional No. 2 spot in U.S. sales for the full year.

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