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Toyota Outsells Ford in May; GM, Chrysler Sales Rise

Toyota Motor said U.S. auto sales rose 9.7% in May, pushing its sales above both Ford Motor and Chrysler. Ford said U.S. vehicle sales fell 6.9% as the automaker continued to cut low-profit sales to rental companies, while General Motors' May sales increased 4.7% and DaimlerChrysler's sales were up 3.9% with help from a 20% jump in its Jeep brand.

All sales growth figures are adjusted for an extra selling day in May 2007 compared with May of last year.

Toyota , which overtook General Motorsin global sales in the first quarter, sold 269,023 vehicles in the United States in May. U.S. sales of the Prius rose almost 185% to 24,009 units in May.

"As fuel prices and consumer confidence rose, the industry saw a move to passenger cars, with retail business posting sharp gains over a very challenging April," said Jim Lentz, Toyota's U.S. executive vice president.

GM said it sold 375,682 vehicles in the United States last month, driven by strong demand for its new crossover vehicles and pickup trucks.

GM , which beat Wall Street expectations with a nearly 5% sales gain, cut its forecast for industrywide sales in 2007 but said retail sales likely had stabilized after a weak spring that had raised concerns about a deepening slump tied to a slower U.S. housing market.

GM forecast U.S. light vehicle sales of less than 16.5 million units in 2007, down from 16.6 million sold in 2006.

"This downward revision is not a surprise, given the headwinds affecting the industry in the spring selling season and given what we anticipate will be the effects of the housing correction," GM chief sales analyst Paul Ballew said.

Ford reported sales to retail customers, which were 3% lower than a year ago, still marked its best retail month of the year as the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers continued to make gains.

"These new crossovers are the right products at the right time," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said in a statement. "Consumer demand for the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX has exceeded our original expectations."

Ford said it now expects Edge sales to reach 120,000 this year-- 20% higher than its original forecast.

Sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, including fleet sales, totaled 258,391 last month, including 169,265 light trucks and 89,126 cars. Truck sales were essentially flat from a year ago, but car sales dropped 17.7%. Ford said its Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrid sport utility vehicles did well for the month.

Chrysler's passenger vehicle sales, which include the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, rose to 199,393, while Mercedes sales rose to 21,771.

DaimlerChrysler sold a total of 221,164 vehicles in the U.S. last month.

With retail gas prices well above $3 a gallon across the nation, some analysts were expecting lower U.S. sales from May 2006. But rebates and other incentives, which the Edmunds.com auto Web site reported Friday were on the rise last month, may offset uncertainty about future fuel prices.

Industrywide, Toyota Motor has been gaining market share in the U.S., banking on a reputation for reliable and fuel-efficient cars. But General Motors and Ford have been working to cut fleet sales, and that effort has weighed on their U.S. sales totals in recent months.

Nissan said its U.S. sales rose on good performances by its larger sedans and fuel-efficient small cars. The company said it sold 93,062 vehicles, up from 86,667 during the same month last year. It said it pushed the fuel-efficient Versa subcompact and Sentra compact cars in May advertising as gas prices were rising.

"Obviously people responded to that," said Brad Shaw, Nissan's senior vice president for sales and marketing.

Ford, meanwhile, announced North American production targets for the third quarter. It said it plans to build 640,000 vehicles in the quarter, down slightly from the 642,000 it built in the third quarter of 2006. For the second quarter of 2007, it left unchanged its production target of 810,000 vehicles.

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