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Toyota passes Ford as 2nd-biggest auto seller in US in 2007

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Toyota Motor Corp. overtook Ford Motor Co. tobecome the No. 2 automaker by U.S. sales in 2007, using newproducts and relentless strategy to break Ford's 75-year lock onthe position.

Toyota sold 2.62 million cars and trucks in 2007, which amountedto 48,226 more than Ford, according to sales figures releasedThursday. Toyota's sales were up 3 percent for the year, buoyed bynew products like the Toyota Tundra pickup, which saw sales jump 57percent. Ford's sales fell 12 percent to 2.572 million vehicles.

General Motors Corp. remained the U.S. sales leader, selling3.82 million vehicles in 2007. But that was down 6 percent from theprevious year as customers turned away from some large sedans andsport utility vehicles and GM cut low-profit sales to employees andrental car agencies. GM's car sales fell 8 percent for the yearwhile truck sales were down 4 percent.

Overall, the year was the worst for the auto industry since 1998as consumers fretted over high gas prices, falling home prices andthe economy. U.S. sales totaled 16.1 million for the year, downfrom 16.6 million in 2006, according to Autodata Corp.

December also was a tough month for automakers despite a slew ofholiday discounts. Toyota's sales slipped 2 percent for the month,while GM's sales were down 4 percent and Ford's fell 9 percent.

Nissan Motor Co.'s December sales were down 2.4 percent, whileHonda Motor Co.'s December sales were flat, with a 10 percentincrease in car sales canceled out by a 10 percent decline in trucksales.

"This was definitely a challenging year to be in the carbusiness, and 2008 isn't likely to be a piece of cake," DickColliver, executive vice president of American Honda, said in astatement.

Colliver said automakers with more fuel-efficient offeringsfared better as gas prices took their toll. Honda's full-year saleswere up 2.5 percent, thanks in part to booming sales of the Fitsubcompact, while Nissan's shot up 5 percent thanks to strong salesof the Versa subcompact.

Chrysler LLC also had a solid December, with sales up 1 percentfor the month thanks to brisk sales of the new Dodge Caravanminivan, which saw a 51 percent jump. Chrysler sales were down 3percent for the year as falling truck and SUV sales erased gains onthe car side.

Ford's car sales plummeted 24 percent for all of 2007 as somemodels like the Ford Mustang aged and a new Ford Taurus sedan wasunable to match the volumes of the older version. Ford also cutrental-car sales by 32 percent over the year. Truck sales were down5 percent.

Ford corporate historian Bob Kreipke said it was the first timesince 1931 that Ford wasn't second behind GM in U.S. sales.

Toyota spokesman Irv Miller said the distinction wasn'timportant to Toyota.

"We don't pay a lot of attention to rankings such as that," hesaid. "It's always nice to see the product is recognized andaccepted by the consumer. The consumer's going to be the ultimatedetermining factor in who the winner is."

Toyota got a boost partly from heavier than usual incentivespending as its Toyota Tundra joined the fiercely competitivefull-size truck segment. Auto research site Edmunds.com estimatedToyota's incentives jumped from $822 to $1,063 per vehicle betweenNovember and December. But Toyota's general manager for U.S. sales,Bob Carter, said Toyota's incentives remain some of the lowest inthe industry.

Jim Farley, who recently became Ford's global marketing chiefafter a career at Toyota, said the new numbers won't change Ford'srecovery plan, which includes carefully targeted use of incentives.

"In fact, it actually accelerates the way we're running thebusiness," Farley told The Associated Press in an interviewThursday morning. "It accentuates the difference between how we'rerunning the business and how our competitors are running thebusiness. It requires us to stick to the plan, no doubt, but italso requires us to really accelerate the development of newproducts."

Farley pointed out that Ford had some hits in 2007, particularlyits Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossover vehicles. Ford crossoversgrew 62 percent over the year, far outpacing the industrywideaverage of 17 percent, the company said.

Ford shares fell 15 cents to $6.45 after sinking to a 52-weeklow of $6.41 earlier in the session. GM shares lost 49 cents to$23.92 after dropping to a 52-week low of $23.34 earlier in theday. Toyota's U.S. shares rose 44 cents to $106.90 in trading inNew York.

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On the Net:

General Motors Corp.: http://www.gm.com

Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com

Honda Motor Co.: http://www.honda.com

Toyota Motor Corp.: http://www.toyota.com

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