Toyota's (TM) U.S. sales jumped 11.7 percent last month, boosted by record hybrid sales and strong overall car sales, while Ford's sales dropped 9 percent, DaimlerChrysler (DCX) sank 4.1 percent and General Motors (GM) slid 4 percent.

The numbers Tuesday come as the domestic automakers have seen Asian rivals led by Toyota Motor Corp. capture a growing share of the U.S. market. But despite its decline, Ford still held off Toyota for the No. 2 U.S. sales spot for the month.

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In all, Toyota sold 242,675 light vehicles in the U.S., including 140,009 cars, up 19.4 percent from the same month a year ago, and 102,666 trucks, a 2.7 percent increase. So far this year, Toyota has sold 61,635 hybrids in the U.S., up 68 percent from the first three months of last year. That includes 28,453 hybrids last month.

"This month marks a milestone eight years in the making," Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota's U.S. division, said in a statement. "Record U.S. sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrids have now topped the half-million mark."

Detroit-based GM, which saw its fleet sales drop for the month as it works to cut low-profit sales to rental car companies, sold 345,418 light vehicles, including 136,866 cars, up 2.3 percent, and 208,552 trucks, down 7.7 percent.

"In March, we saw continued strength and stability in our retail business led by gains in mid-(size) cars, crossovers, economy cars and luxury SUVs," said Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president of North American sales, service and marketing.

General Motors Corp. said sales of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, GMC Acadia crossover and Saturn Outlook sport utility vehicles were exceeding its expectations.

Ford Motor Co.'s sales of 263,684 light vehicles included 174,200 trucks, down 5.9 percent from the same month a year ago, and 89,484 cars, down 14.6 percent. The monthly drop comes as Dearborn-based Ford also works to reduce fleet sales. Ford, however, said its new mid-size cars — including the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ — and its new Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers sold well.

"We remain committed to offering more of the products that our customers really want, and the popularity of our new cars and crossovers is proof we're delivering," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said in a statement.

"Ford is moving quickly to operate profitably at lower volumes and a changed mix .... Our newest products also are achieving the sales targets we have set for ourselves."

DaimlerChrysler AG sold 228,047 vehicles in the U.S. last month. Its Chrysler Group's passenger vehicle sales, which include the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands, fell 4.6 percent to 206,435. Mercedes sales rose 1 percent to a March record of 21,612.

The figures come a day before DaimlerChrysler's shareholders meet in Germany amid intense speculation about a possible sale of the Chrysler division. Prospects for Chrysler have been a hot topic since DaimlerChrysler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche first publicly floated the idea in February.

At Ford, sales of the Fusion were up 47.5 percent to 15,790 from a year ago. But sales of F-series pickup trucks dropped 15.1 percent to 71,481. Ford said the increasing availability of the 2008 Super Duty should help future F-series performance.

Ford's sales include Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, as well as Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.

Ford on Tuesday also said pricing for the new 2008 Taurus sedan will start at $23,995. The automaker announced earlier this year it was renaming its Five Hundred model the Taurus, a once top-selling car that had ended a 21-year run last year.

Industrywide, Toyota has been gaining market share in the U.S., riding on the success of cars such as the Camry, widely seen as reliable and fuel-efficient, while GM, Ford and Chrysler have worked to turn around their North American operations. Last month, Toyota's surging car sales were led by Camry, which rose 8.4 percent to 42,254.

Toyota's sales include the Toyota and Lexus brands.

GM, the world's largest automaker, remains the top seller in the U.S. Analysts predict, however, that Toyota will continue to make gains this year and likely will knock Ford off its traditional No. 2 spot in U.S. sales for the full year.

March was the best month for U.S. sales in 2006 with 1.53 million vehicles.

The Associated Press reports unadjusted figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages adjusted for sales days, which last month was 28 and in March 2006 was 27.

GM shares rose 65 cents to $31.48 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, while Ford shares rose 6 cents to $8.15. Toyota's U.S. shares slipped 2 cents to $126.90 on the NYSE while DaimlerChrysler's U.S. shares fell $1.09 to $82.93.

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