Toyota makes No. 2 in U.S.


Riding high on its image as a leader in fuel efficiency, Toyota Motor Corp. surpassed Ford Motor Co. in July to become, for the first time, the No. 2 auto retailer in the United States.

Piling on the insult, Asian automakers collectively posted their best showing ever, grabbing 41.4 percent of the U.S. passenger vehicle market in July, while the American car companies' collective market share dropped to a record low 52 percent.

"Look at the trend over the past four years, and if you assume that all else remains the same, we believe Japanese automakers will be outselling domestics in the U.S. by 2014," said analyst Jesse Toprak of online automotive information provider in Santa Monica, Calif.

Analysts were divided, though, on whether Toyota's strong showing for the month was an anomaly driven largely by buyers' concerns over fuel prices, or the start of a new chapter for the leading Japanese automaker.

For the first seven months, Toyota remained in fourth place in the U.S. behind the three Detroit-area companies, although with a 10.1 percent sales gain that outstripped all other major automakers.

Honda Motor Co., typically No. 5 in the United States, also vaulted ahead in July, overtaking DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group to capture fourth place in sales for the first time. Toyota and its Lexus brand outsold Ford and its Lincoln and Mercury brands by 17,696 vehicles. Honda and its Acura brand edged past the combined Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands by 1,455 vehicles.

Toyota has outsold Chrysler in several months in the last two years to take the No. 3 position in the U.S. In 2003 it passed Ford in global sales to become second in the world behind General Motors Corp. Most analysts believe Toyota could become the global leader by the end of this decade even if it doesn't surpass Ford in the United States.

As Toyota's U.S. sales soared in July, the traditional Detroit Big Three automakers all fell sharply in comparison with year-earlier sales that were inflated by customer excitement over incentive plans that offered employee discounts to all buyers.

GM said its sales fell 22.2 percent and Chrysler's sales fell 37.4 percent.

Ford's sales fell 35.2 percent, as sales of its F-Series pickup trucks, long the country's best-selling vehicle and the company's most important moneymaker, shot down 45.6 percent.

John O'Dell writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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