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UPDATE 2-Pick-up trucks remain mainstay for Detroit Three in third quarter

Ankit Ajmera

(Adds GM numbers)

Oct 2 (Reuters) - General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler on Wednesday reported higher pick-up truck sales for the third quarter in the United States, as lower interest rates helped boost demand in a market that has seen car sales decline.

Automakers in the U.S. are focusing on selling larger SUVs and trucks that are more profitable, as passenger cars fall out of favor.

While higher vehicle prices and rising interest rates earlier in the year kept car shoppers on the sidelines, recent interest rate cuts helped sales in the third quarter.

"Gas prices and interest rates remain at historically low levels ... (and) support our industry to 17 million plus level for what is now the fifth straight year," Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service said on a call.

There were concerns that GM's sales could be hit as 48,000 hourly employees at the top U.S. automaker walked out for the first time in 12 years on Sept. 16, and remain on strike.

GM did not face a severe inventory crunch in the third quarter, as most dealers showed healthy supply levels heading into October, according to an analysis by automotive shopping website CarGurus.

However, the company risks facing parts shortages from the strike that could possibly affect sales in the current quarter, likely benefiting smaller rivals including Ford.

When analysts asked if Ford might want to capitalize on its rival's disadvantage, the No.2 automaker said it was keeping an eye on the talks between GM and its union, and will remain "competitive".

GM's sales of its Silverado pick-up trucks jumped 16.6% to 155,482 vehicles, boosting the its total U.S. quarterly sales by 6.3% to 738,638 vehicles.

Ford said sales of its pick-up trucks rose 5% to 240,387, its best third-quarter performance in 14 years, even as overall sales fell 4.9% to 580,251 automobiles, hurt by lower demand for its passenger cars including the Taurus sedan.

Fiat Chrysler's sales of its Ram pick-up trucks surged 14% to 161,635, marginally lifting overall sales by 0.1% to 565,034 vehicles.

GM's sales fell slightly short of U.S. car shopping website Edmunds' forecast of 748,746 vehicles, while Ford and Fiat Chrysler beat expectations. Edmunds had expected third-quarter sales for the industry to rise by 0.8% to 4.3 million vehicles, led by volume gains at GM.

Edmunds had forecast Ford's sales at 570,179 vehicles and Fiat Chrysler's at 558,302. (Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)