Ford's (F) U.S. sales plummeted 21 percent in September on deep cuts in sales to car rental agencies. Toyota (TM) sales slipped 4 percent, but General Motors (GM) and Honda (HMC) fared better in a tough economic climate.

General Motors Corp. said sales were flat compared with last September. The nation's biggest automaker got a boost from its new lineup of pickups as well as the new Cadillac CTS, which posted a 73 percent sales increase.

Honda Motor Co. reported its U.S. sales rose more than 9 percent.

Ford Motor Co.'s car sales dropped 39 percent compared with last September, while its truck sales slipped 5 percent. Sales of Ford's F-150 pickup, long the best-selling vehicle in the United States, fell 21 percent as newer pickups from GM and Toyota Motor Corp. stole its thunder.

Ford said a 62 percent reduction in sales to rental car fleets partly was to blame. Ford has been trying to cut back on rental sales, which can hurt brand image and profits.

Ford's overall sales were down 13 percent for the first nine months of the year. Ford hasn't seen a month when sales rose since October 2006, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.

George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said Ford is on track to cut sales to daily rental fleets by more than its original goal of 30 percent this year, or 135,000 vehicles.

"At the very beginning of the year, we said planned reductions in daily rental were of such a magnitude that we expected a sales decline every month this year," Pipas said in a conference call with investors and media. "What has transpired has been in line with what our expectations were at the beginning of the year."

Toyota's decline from a year ago was led by its trucks, which were off 5.7 percent. Car sales were down 3.5 percent, the company reported, but it said the figures were compared with a best-ever September 2006.

Analysts have said that a drop in Toyota sales usually is a sign of a bad month for all automakers since the company had been showing increases during most months.

Honda bucked the trend thanks to a 7.2 percent rise in car sales, while truck sales were up 12.5 percent. Honda Motor, which includes Honda and the Acura luxury brand, said its Honda division reported a record September, led by its new Accord sedan and CR-V crossover vehicle.

Many analysts predicted that jittery consumers put off big-ticket purchases in reaction to the credit crunch, high gas prices and the troubled housing market. Last week's two-day strike against GM by the United Auto Workers wasn't expected to have much impact. Wall Street analysts predicted overall sales would be down 4 percent for the month.

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. There were 25 sales days last month and 26 in September 2006.

Ford's shares rose 31 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $8.54 in afternoon trading Tuesday as investors anticipated a new contract with the UAW that could help Ford. GM shares rose $1.05, or 2.9 percent, to $37.10. Toyota's U.S. shares fell 71 cents to $118.04.