US light vehicle sales were weaker than expected in November, turning out at 1.194m units - around 2.8% ahead of a weak November 2005 according to data released by Ward's. The cumulative figure for the year to so far stands at 15.08m units, 2.5% off the same period of last year.

Weak November sales have reinforced concerns that the market could decline in 2007 as the US economy slows.

Ford's results - down 10.4% on last year - will have caused consternation in Dearborn as the company was beaten to the number two spot by Toyota (number three if DC's results include Mercedes-Benz).

Toyota sales surged by 16% over last year, boosted by strong sales of the Camry, while GM reported 6% growth.

"Ford was a major disappointment," said Global Insight analyst George Magliano speaking to Reuters. "I think the economy is really starting to push hard against the market."

Industry-wide sales ran at an annualised rate of 16.04 million units for November, short of most analysts' forecasts and relatively weak October sales, according to Autodata Corp.

Light-vehicle sales this year are expected to be near 17 million units and many auto executives have said they expect new model launches to offset the pressure from a weakening housing market on consumer demand.

Ford's November market share dropped from 16.9% last year to 14.8%. 

Toyota's market share jumped nearly 2 percentage points to 16.5% according to Ward's data.

November marked the first time since 2002 that Ford slipped to No. 4 in U.S. sales, which happened largely because it decided to pull back on sales incentives, said Alex Rosten, industry analyst with Edmunds.com, reported Reuters.

"They didn't launch their incentive program until mid-month," Rosten added. "GM and Dodge were definitely more aggressive in incentive spending on trucks and SUVs."

Despite weaker industry-wide auto sales in recent months, GM's chief sales analyst, Paul Ballew, said the automaker still expected 2007 sales to hold flat from this year's total with sales of trucks and large SUVs holding steady.

GM and Ford both offer year-end incentives to boost demand, but both cut incentive spending in November, analysts said.

Chrysler Group managed to defy some of the gloomier predictions, posting an incentives-led 2.9% sales increase in November. Chrysler raised its discount offerings slightly in November to an industry-leading average of US$4,224 per vehicle, according to an analysis by Edmunds.com, while Ford spent US$3,326 in incentives per vehicle and GM spent US$2,539 per vehicle.