Record sales in December propel auto industry to its fifth-best year


CHICAGO - Record December sales boosted the auto industry to its fifth-best year, but the domestic Big Three's share of the U.S. market slid to an all-time low of 58.7 percent.

Japanese automakers Toyota, Honda and Nissan posted record sales last year to increase their combined share to 26.3 percent. Korean manufacturer Hyundai and its Kia affiliate also had record years.

Automakers sold a record 1.54 million vehicles last month, raising sales for the year to 16.9 million, 1.4 percent more than in 2003. The record is 17.4 million, set in 2000.

Chrysler Group, the U.S. unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, was the only domestic-based manufacturer to increase sales and market share. Chrysler's sales rose 4 percent, to 2.2 million, and its share edged up 0.2 percentage points, to 13 percent.

General Motors' sales fell 3 percent last month. GM's sales were down 1.3 percent for the year, to 4.65 million, and its share dropped to a low of 27.3 percent.

Ford's sales rose slightly last month, ending six straight months of decline with help from brisk sales of its new Ford Five Hundred, Freestyle and Mustang. Ford also sold 95,392 F-Series pickups last month and 939,511 for the year, both records. The F-Series has been the industry's best-selling vehicle 23 straight years.

For the year, Ford's sales were down 4.5 percent, to 3.3 million vehicles.

Sales of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., including its Lexus and Scion brands, rose 10 percent as Toyota sold more than 2 million vehicles in the United States for the first time.

American Honda's sales rose 3 percent last year, and Nissan's sales jumped 24 percent.

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