Toyota overtook both Ford and Chrysler in the US last month, selling 228,322 light vehicles for a 16% market share, up from 13.7% a year previously, according to Ford sold 224,770 vehicles (15.8%) and Chrysler 190,415 for a 13.4% slice.

For the full year, Toyota passed DaimlerChrysler as the No. 3 seller for the first time with a 15.4% share compared with DC’s 13.3%, according to The Associated Press, citing Autodata.

Toyota’s market share rose more than two percentage points, up from 13.3% at the end of last year, AP said.

The company had its best year ever in 2006, with sales up 12.5% for the year at 2,542,525 vehicles, according to Wards.

WardsAuto data showed sales by the US industry as a whole off just 2.6% to 16,502,696 units last year with Asian (up 5.1%) and European (up 5.7%) brands making gains at the expense of the Detroit-based Big Three (off 8.2%).

GM sales fell 8.7% to 4,067,599 units, Ford was off 8.3% to 2,848,121 and Chrysler volume was down 7.0% to 2,142,505.

Sales of domestic brand cars fell 0.8% to 5,435,994 while import brand sales rose 7.2% to 2,344,764.

Import light trucks were up 10.8% to 1,346,643 while the domestics were off 8.6% to 7,375,295.

According to AP, Ford has forecast a 14% to 15% market share for the next several years which means it almost certainly will be passed by Toyota as No. 2 sometime next year.

Ford said lower F-Series pickup truck sales and lower sales of the discontinued Taurus sedan and Freestar minivan “more than accounted” for its December decline and noted that its car sales were still 5% higher than a year ago, boosted by new models such as the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Lincoln MKZ.

Ford’s full year truck sales were down 14% as higher petrol prices and “long-term demographic trends” drove SUV sales lower and a soft housing industry weighed on full-size truck sales, a trend the automaker expects to also affect these segments in 2007.

Land Rover was Ford’s only brand to post higher sales in 2006.

“2006 was a respectable year for the industry if you consider the strain of erratic fuel prices and a housing bubble on an industry weaning itself from incentives,” Toyota Motor Sales executive vice president Jim Lentz said.

Toyota’s Camry was the best-selling car in America for the fifth consecutive year – with 417,104 sales – followed by the Corolla/Matrix line (387,388) and Honda’s Accord (354,441) and Civic (316,638.

GM’s Chevrolet Impala (289,868) was the top-selling domestic brand car in 2006.

American Honda posted record sales for the 10th consecutive year – 1,509,358 units.

Noted executive vice president Dick Colliver: “In this year of record fuel prices, Honda has benefited from its position as the most fuel- efficient car company in America.”

Other notable results for 2006 included Suzuki, up 23.0% to 100,990 units, and Mercedes (+10.3% to 247,887).

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