Toyota Motor has overtaken Ford for the first time in the US market to rank second in terms of sales behind General Motors.

The Japanese carmaker followed a record first half for US sales with a 12 per cent rise in July, slightly below its performance in the previous month.

Toyota, which has rapidly narrowed GM’s lead in the US, said market dynamics were unchanged, with buyers still focused on fuel-efficiency as the average price of petrol hovers at about $3 a gallon.

“Our focus is not to take market share away from anybody and not about getting bigger and bigger,” Toyota said on Wednesday. “What we want to do is deliver what customers are looking for and let the products speak for themselves. We will continue increasing our production in the US, with our plant in Texas coming on line this year.”

The Big Three US carmakers all fell short of July estimates, with Ford and GM suffering their sixth consecutive monthly sales decline.

DaimlerChrysler’s US arm suffered a 35 per cent drop in domestic sales during July in spite of the blanket coverage of its “Dr Z” advertising campaign featuring Dieter Zetsche, chairman.

The quirky ads failed to have the same effect on prospective customers as the deep discounting programmes launched by the Big Three in July 2005, with overall industry sales down 16 per cent year-on-year.

Ford and GM both suffered as the industry cut back on the employee-pricing offers that drove near-record US sales last summer, although overseas rivals such as Toyota continued to gain market share.

GM remained upbeat in spite of a 19.5 per cent drop in new-vehicle sales and said its recent momentum was stabilising market share. It retained its guidance for third-quarter production, which, like Ford’s, is expected to dip by 8 per cent.

Executives at the Big Three said high energy prices continued to dent sales, with the light truck and SUV segments suffering the sharpest declines so far this year.

Ford’s truck sales were 43.8 per cent lower, pulling overall volumes down by 34.2 per cent. However, Chrysler was viewed by analysts as the worst performer.

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