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Nissan, Toyota Help Asian Automakers Boost U.S. Share

Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. led Asian automakers to market share gains in the U.S. for a 13th month out of 14 on the popularity of locally designed models, such as Nissan's Titan pickup truck.

Market share for the 10 Asian carmakers that compete in the U.S. expanded by 0.9 percentage point to 34.1 percent from a year earlier, Autodata Corp. said. Combined sales rose 6.6 percent to 514,666 cars and trucks. Sales at Tokyo-based Nissan, Japan's third biggest automaker, surged 30 percent.

"Nissan and Toyota are making models that are suitable for the U.S. market in terms of design and performance and that gives them a competitive edge,'' said Nobuaki Murayama, who helps manage the equivalent of $578 million in Japanese equities at Cigna International Investment Advisors K.K. in Tokyo.

The combined market share of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler fell to 59.3 percent from 59.8 percent. Overall U.S. sales rose 3.8 percent to 1.51 million.

Shares of Toyota, Japan's biggest automaker, rose 1.1 percent to 3,780 yen in Tokyo. Nissan rose 1.5 percent 1,160 yen, while Honda Motor Co. gained 0.4 percent to 4,680 yen.

Nissan Gains

Nissan boosted sales 30 percent to 90,494 vehicles, helped by its Titan pickup and Armada sport-utility vehicle. A 70.5 percent increase in light-truck sales helped boost market share to 6 percent, up 1.2 percentage points from a year ago.

Toyota's sales grew 5.5 percent to 174,209 on demand for new models such as Sienna minivans, Tundra Double-Cab pickups and Lexus RX 330 SUVs. Toyota, based in central Japan's Toyota City, raised market share to 11.6 percent in March from 11.4 percent a year ago.

"Nissan, within an incredibly short time, has re- established itself as a major industry powerhouse,'' said Wes Brown, an analyst with industry consultant Nextrend in Los Angeles. For its part, Toyota's ``Sienna is just rolling right out the door and becoming the vehicle of choice in the segment.''

Sales at Honda, Japan's second-largest carmaker, fell 4.8 percent on lower demand for Accord sedans and Odyssey minivans. Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea's largest automaker, reported a 5.9 percent decline to 36,024 vehicles, led by a 14 percent drop in sales of its Santa Fe sport-utility vehicle.

General Motors, the world's largest automaker, posted a 6.3 increase to 407,216. Ford, the second-biggest U.S. automaker, raised sales 2.2 percent to 289,744. Chrysler's sales fell 2 percent to 197,856.

Tokyo-based Nissan's sales included a 32.8 percent rise for its main Nissan brand, to 78,070. The company's luxury Infiniti brand sales increased 16.4 percent to 12,424.

Sales of Toyota-brand autos rose 3.4 percent to 149,196, including 5,199 Scion cars. Demand for Lexus luxury cars grew 20 percent to 25,013, led by the RX 330 SUV and ES 300 sport sedan.

Hyundai's market share slipped 0.2 percentage point to 2.4 percent for the month. Kia Motors Corp., a Hyundai affiliate, reported sales of 23,769 cars and trucks, up 11.3 percent, on higher sales of Sorento SUVs and Sedona minivans. Kia's market share improved to 1.6 percent from 1.5 percent a year earlier.

Mazda, Mitsubishi

Mazda Motor Corp., a third owned by Ford, posted a sixth consecutive monthly double-digit percentage increase, with sales up 37 percent to 25,321. Hiroshima, Japan-based Mazda's gains were driven by its new Mazda3 small cars, as well as rising sales of Mazda6 sedans.

Mazda's market share rose to 1.7 percent, up 0.4 percentage point. Mazda shares fell 0.9 percent to 333 yen, while Mitsubishi Motors Corp. shares surged 11.2 percent to 288 yen.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., 37 percent owned by DaimlerChrysler, sold 20,416 cars and sport utilities, down 2.8 percent. Sales of the redesigned Galant sedan, introduced late last year, rose 38 percent, moderating declines for other models. Mitsubishi's share was little changed at 1.4 percent.

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. sold 17,606 Subaru-brand all- wheel drive cars and wagons, eight fewer than in the same month year ago. The Tokyo-based company, a fifth owned by General Motors, maintained market share of 1.2 percent.

Suzuki Motor Corp., also a fifth owned by General Motors, reported sales of 6,921 cars and SUVs, up 4.8 percent. The increase was led by demand for Verona and Forenza sedans, which Shizuoka, Japan-based Suzuki sources from South Korea's GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co. Suzuki's market share was unchanged at 0.5 percent.

Isuzu Motors Ltd. sold 4,057 SUVs, 23 percent more than a year ago, on higher demand for the Rodeo model. Market share for Isuzu, 12 percent owned by General Motors, rose to 0.3 percent from 0.2 percent.

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