TOKYO: Japanese automaker Toyota Motor continues to cut a swathe through the US market, in 2006 outselling DaimlerChrysler for the first time, according to figures from sales tracker Autodata.
The 12.5% increase in sales over 2005 has put the company firmly in third place behind General Motors and Ford Motor Company, splitting the once dominant Detroit Big Three.
Consumers have become disaffected with domestically-produced gas-guzzling SUVs and have migrated to Toyota's smaller vehicles, especially gas-electric hybrid models.
Toyota sold 15.4% of all vehicles in the US last year, compared with 14.4% for DaimlerChrysler. GM sold 24.6% and Ford, 17.5%.
Autodata also shows that Japanese rival Honda increased its US sales by 3.2%.
Comments Jack Nerad of Kelley Blue Book: "When you get the reputation of being the safe choice and right choice and you don't disappoint folks, people gravitate to you. That's what's happening with Toyota and Honda."
Overall, the motor industry sold 16.6 million vehicles in North America during 2006, around 2% down on the previous year. Automakers are also predicting 2007 sales to be relatively flat.
Leading the push was German-headquartered BMW - the world's biggest manufacturer of luxury vehicles - which sold 17% more cars than in December 2005.
And even though European auto sales in the USA fell 2.4% in December, the overrall annual total reached 1.15 million units, their highest since 2003.
German luxury marques Porsche, Audi and Mercedes-Benz had the biggest increases for the group last year.
Says Los Angeles auto analyst Wes Brown: "This is an image and brand-oriented marketplace. Brands with strong images, especially in the luxury sector, are prevailing."
Data sourced from USA Today.com and Bloomberg.com; additional content by WARC staff