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January Auto Sales Broadly Lower; Toyota Tops Ford

Toyota Motor posted a rise in January U.S. auto sales on Thursday, claiming the No. 2 spot in the world's largest market for cars and trucks, as sales by rival Ford Motor fell sharply.

Top carmaker General Motors, meanwhile, posted a sales decline at the low end of analysts' expectations and trimmed its first-quarter production plans in response.

The shifting fortunes of Toyota and its largest American rivals had been widely expected, given Toyota's momentum with a line-up of fuel-efficient cars and the sweeping restructuring efforts underway at Ford and GM.

It was not the first month that Toyota had surpassed Ford but gave the Japanese automaker a lead in a year in which many analysts expect it will top Ford in annual U.S. sales and overtake GM on a global basis.

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CNBC reports percentages adjusted for sales days, which numbered 25 last month versus 24 in January 2006.

Toyota's two major divisions turned in their best-ever sales totals for the month of January.

Toyota saw total monthly sales rise 2.1% over last January. The company sold a total of 175,850 automobiles for the month.

The automaker's Toyota Division sold 86,682 passenger cars, led by sales of the Camry, and 67,050 light trucks. Toyota's high-end Lexus Division sold 13,574 cars and 8,544 light trucks.

Ford reported a U.S. sales decline of 22.1% to 166,835 automobiles, largely as a result of the company's move away from rental fleet sales. The company warned investors of a January slowdown in fleet sales earlier this week.

Ford's car sales fell 35.2%, led by a 65% decline in daily rental sales. Sales of Ford trucks slumped 13.3%.

Big Drop at GM

General Motors said its U.S. January sales tumbled nearly 20% from a year earlier, reflecting lower sales to fleet operators and rental companies.

GM sold 247,464 vehicles in the United States last month, down 19.7% on an adjusted basis from 296,003 vehicles a year earlier.

The company, which has been reducing low-margin rental fleet sales, cut its first-quarter North American production forecast to 1.08 million vehicles, down 40,000 from its prediction last month.

GM's January North American production fell 19% from a year earlier.

DaimlerChrysler reported a total year-over-year sales decline of 0.6% on an adjusted basis.

Chrysler's sales, which include the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, were down 3.5% to 156,308, while sales at Mercedes rose 31.4% to 17,069 in January compared with the same month of 2006.

Honda Motor said its U.S. January sales fell 1.7% to 100,790 vehicles. Total adjusted car sales fell 10.7% while truck sales rose 11%.

Honda Division U.S. January sales fell 0.2 percent, while Acura Division sales were down 10.6%.

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