updated 4/3/2007 9:40:58 PM ET 2007-04-04T01:40:58

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 sales fell 4 percent, Ford posted a 9 percent decline and DaimlerChrysler dropped 4.1 percent.

The numbers Tuesday come as the domestic automakers have seen Asian rivals led by Toyota capture growing shares of the U.S. market. But despite its decline, Ford still held off Toyota for the No. 2 U.S. sales spot for the month.

In all, Toyota Motor Corp. sold 242,675 light 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.”

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.

“In March, we saw continued strength and stability in our retail business led by gains in mid-(size) cars, crossovers, economy cars and luxury SUVs,” said Mark LaNeve, GM’s vice president of North American sales, service and marketing.

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,” Ballew said in 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. The monthly drop comes as Dearborn-based Ford also works to reduce fleet sales. Ford, however, said its new mid-size cars — including the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ — and its new Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers sold well.

“We remain committed to offering more of the products that our customers really want, and the popularity of our new cars and crossovers is proof we’re delivering,” Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said in a statement.

“Ford is moving quickly to operate profitably at lower volumes and a changed mix .... Our newest products also are achieving the sales targets we have set for ourselves.”

DaimlerChrysler AG sold 228,047 vehicles in the U.S. 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 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.

“In a flat to slightly down industry, our sales decline ... compares to a March 2006 that was our best month of March in four years,” Steven Landry, Chrysler’s vice president for sales and field operations, said in a statement.

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

Chrysler Chief Executive Tom LaSorda has tried to soothe fears — among employees and its dealers — about what would happen to the company. And he noted Tuesday that Chrysler is working to improve relationships with dealers.

“We continue to deliver on our promise to spend more time with our dealers and make their profitability a priority,” LaSorda said Tuesday.

At Ford, sales of the Fusion were up 47.5 percent to 15,790 from a year ago. But sales of F-series pickup trucks dropped 15.1 percent to 71,481. Ford said the increasing availability of the 2008 Super Duty should help future F-series performance.

“Overall it was a good month except in one respect — when we compare it to a year ago,” George Pipas, Ford’s top sales analyst, said in conference call.

Ford’s sales include Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, as well as Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.

Ford on Tuesday also said pricing for the new 2008 Taurus sedan will start at $23,995. The automaker announced earlier this year it was renaming its Five Hundred model the Taurus, a once top-selling car that had ended a 21-year run last year.

American Honda Motor Co., which includes Honda and Acura brands, said it’s on track for another record U.S. sales year. It sold 143,392 light vehicles last month — up 11.3 percent — including 80,633 cars, up 12 percent, and 62,759 trucks, up 10.5 percent. Like Toyota, it said it had gains in hybrid sales, but credited the overall increase on public perception about fuel-efficiency across its line.

“The continued sales success of Honda light trucks and cars in this period of ever-increasing fuel prices shows the high consumer awareness of our excellent fuel economy,” said Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda.

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 U.S., riding on the success of cars such as the Camry, widely seen as reliable and fuel-efficient, while GM, Ford and Chrysler have worked to turn around their North American operations. Last month, Toyota’s surging car sales were led by Camry, which rose 8.4 percent to 42,254.

Toyota’s sales include the Toyota and Lexus brands.

GM, the world’s largest automaker, remains the top seller in the U.S. The company on Tuesday lowered its second-quarter North American production forecast by 1.3 percent to 1.16 million vehicles. It said its North American plants built 1.063 million vehicles in the first quarter, down 15 percent from the first three months of 2006.

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.

March was the best month for U.S. sales in 2006 with 1.53 million vehicles.

The Associated Press reports unadjusted figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages adjusted for sales days, which last month was 28 and in March 2006 was 27.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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