TORRANCE, California: Toyota Motor has accelerated past Ford Motor Company as America's number two automaker by unit sales.

It is also expected to leapfrog General Motors to become global sales leader when the two companies release their worldwide totals later this month.

The Japanese giant posted a sales improvement of 2.7% for the whole of 2007 (to 2.62 million vehicles) in the US, one of the main drivers being its hybrid Prius marque, sales of which rose 69%.

Ford, by contrast, saw totals fall 12% year-on-year to 2.57m, a decline largely attributed to its exit from the minivan sector and the withdrawal of the Taurus sedan, mainly sold to car rental firms.

Jim Farley, Ford's group vp of marketing and communications, said the company needed to "make the connection with the customer again, to reawaken their interest in Ford".

GM's US sales dropped by 6%, compared with 2006, to $3.82m, although it reports a growth in market share across most other regions.

A total of 8.25m US-manufactured cars were sold in the domestic market during 2007, compared with 6.7m for brands based in Asia and 1.16m from Europe.

European automakers improved their US market share from 6.9% to 7.2% as sales rose by 1%.

German luxury marque BMW saw US annual sales grow by 7.1% comapred with 2006, while Audi (+3.8%), Mercedes-Benz (+2.2%) and Porsche (+2%) also recorded increases.

US sales of Volkswagen vehicles slipped 1.9% for the year, but it was the only manufacturer to improve year-on-year in December.

Data sourced from Financial Times online and (Germany); additional content by WARC staff