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Asian Automakers Grab Record U.S. Share

May 4, 2005; Alan Ohnsman writing for Bloomberg reported that Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. led Asian carmakers to record U.S. market share in April, as they challenged the dominance of domestic companies in the light-truck and sport-utility vehicle markets.

Asian companies had a 37.5 percent share of new car and light truck sales last month, Autodata Corp. said yesterday. Tokyo-based Nissan's sales rose 32 percent, Toyota's climbed by 26 percent and Honda's gained 18 percent. Sales fell 3.9 percent for General Motors Corp. and 1.5 percent for Ford Motor Co.

``It's product, product, product on one side, and a lack of strong competing models on the other,'' said Eric Noble, president of Car Lab, a consulting firm in Orange, California. Asian brands ``have been setting the pace on the passenger-car side, and now they're starting to set the pace'' in light trucks.

Asian carmakers are making gains across their entire model lineups as U.S. consumers shun the less fuel-efficient sport- utilities and trucks that make up the bulk of sales at GM and Ford. Sales of Toyota's gasoline-electric Prius car, Honda's Civic and Accord and Nissan's Titan pickup gained as fuel prices soared as much as 30 percent.

Industrywide sales rose 5.7 percent to 1.5 million last month on increases at Japan's three largest automakers and South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co., said Autodata of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

Gas prices seem to have hurt demand for the largest types of SUVs in April, said Jed Connelly, Nissan's senior vice president for North American sales, in an interview.

``Certainly the full-size SUV segment is not what it once was,'' he said. ``There seems to be some adjustment there, more interest in mid-size SUVs.''


Hyundai shares rose 0.2 percent to 52,700 won as of 2:16 p.m. on the Korea Stock Exchange Wednesday. The stock is down 5 percent this year, compared with a 12 percent gain on the Korea Transport Equipment Index. Kia Motor Corp.'s shares rose 2.8 percent to 12,900 won. Japanese markets are closed for a national holiday.

Toyota sold 210,466 vehicles last month, up from 167,129 a year earlier. The gains were led by its Scion cars and revamped Avalon and Lexus GS sedans that went on sale this year. Prius sales tripled to a record 11,345.

The rapid growth for Toyota in the U.S., 14 percent in first four months of this year, ``is getting embarrassing,'' said Jeremy Anwyl, president of automotive data service, based in Santa Monica, California, in an interview. ``Their business model is focused on incremental gains, so I'm not sure they're fully prepared for the current pace.''


Toyota's market share was a record 14 percent in April, up 2.3 percentage points from a year earlier, according to Autodata. The Toyota City-based automaker ranks fourth in U.S. sales, behind GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler, which had an 8.7 percent sales increase in April.

Honda sold 135,597 vehicles, an increase from 114,929. The Tokyo-based automaker had gains of 13 percent for the Accord and 15 percent for the Civic, its best-selling models. Acura-brand luxury cars and trucks, which sell for an average of more than $36,000, rose 16 percent.

Market share at Honda, fifth in U.S. sales, rose 0.9 point to 9 percent.

Nissan, Hyundai

Nissan sold 91,621 cars and trucks, rising from 69,470, helped by its two-month-old Infiniti M luxury sedan and higher sales of its light truck models including the Titan pickup, Connelly said. The Tokyo-based company also had increases of 65 percent for its Sentra small cars and 48 percent for its Murano sport-utilities.

Nissan's market share climbed to 6.1 percent from 4.9 percent, according to Autodata.

Hyundai sold 40,958 vehicles in April, 17 percent more than a year earlier. The Seoul-based company benefited from the Tucson small SUV that was added four months ago, as well as from gains for Elantra cars and Tiburon sport coupes. Hyundai's market share rose to 2.7 percent from 2.5 percent.

Kia Motors Corp., a Hyundai affiliate, had a 16 percent sales increase to 27,158, lifting its market share 0.2 point to 1.8 percent.

U.S. sales of hybrid-electric vehicles reached 20,974 in April, the highest since Toyota and Honda began selling the fuel- saving models five years ago. Along with the Prius, Toyota sold 2,345 new Lexus RX 400h hybrid SUVs and Honda sold a record 5,579 Civic, Accord and Insight hybrids. Ford reported sales of 1,705 gas-electric Escapes.

Gas Prices

Gas prices are ``probably the primary driver, particularly in California, where gasoline costs between $2.50 and $2.80 a gallon,'' said Jim Lentz, U.S. general manager for Toyota brand sales. Prius sales, which have exceeded 10,000 units for the past two months, ``should continue'' at that pace for the rest of 2005, Lentz said.

Toyota has said it plans to sell at least 100,000 Prius this year and ``we continue to ask for more,'' Lentz said.

Gasoline futures prices were 37 percent higher in April than a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Among other Asian brands, Mazda Motor Corp., a third owned by Ford, raised sales 2.6 percent to 22,249. Subaru, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s auto brand, had a 23 percent increase to 16,717, and Suzuki Motor Corp. said its sales totaled 8,084, up 15 percent.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. reported a 43 percent sales decline to 9,230 and Isuzu Motors Ltd. sold 1,412 SUVs, down 44 percent.

Bloomberg News and automakers including Ford report auto sales on an unadjusted basis, calculating percentage changes on the actual number of units sold in one period versus another. GM, Toyota and other automakers adjust the percentages to reflect the number of ``selling days'' in a month. Percentage changes in this story are unadjusted.