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Toyota, Honda sales soar

But the Big 3 US automakers lost ground last month

DETROIT -- Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. saw double-digit US sales increases in May as consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles grew, the automakers reported yesterday.

Rising fuel prices hurt domestic manufacturers, which rely more heavily on sales of trucks and sport utility vehicles. General Motors Corp. said its sales were down 12 percent for the month, while Ford Motor Co. said its sales were down 2 percent and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group said sales were down nearly 11 percent

Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of market and industry analysis, said automakers felt the brunt of a spike in gas prices that began in April. Rising interest rates also hurt sales, he said.

``We knew we'd have a rocky month," Ballew said.

Industrywide sales were flat compared with May 2005, with trucks and SUVs down 7 percent but cars up 6 percent, according to Autodata Corp. The seasonally adjusted sales rate for May, which shows what total sales would be if they remained at the same rate for the entire year, was 16.1 million vehicles. Automakers sold 17 million vehicles in 2005.

Toyota's overall sales were up 17 percent and car sales were up nearly 25 percent thanks to strong sales of the new Yaris subcompact as well as the redesigned Camry. Both cars went on sale in March.

Toyota said sales of its trucks and sport utility vehicles rose nearly 7 percent, mostly because of growing sales of crossovers like the RAV4 and the debut of the FJ Cruiser sport-utility vehicle.

Honda's car sales shot up 21 percent as the Fit subcompact and redesigned Civic hit the market, while truck and SUV sales were up 9 percent thanks to strong sales of the Pilot crossover and Ridgeline small pickup.

GM said its car sales fell nearly 16 percent, largely due to an effort to cut back on sales to rental car companies. Truck and SUV sales were down 10 percent. Ballew said comparisons to last year's sales will continue to be difficult throughout the summer, since GM and other domestic automakers saw near-record sales last year because of its employee discounts.

Chrysler said its truck and SUV sales fell 14 percent. Its car sales were down 1 percent for the month.

Ford said sales of its Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury trucks and SUVs fell 7 percent.

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