Ford Motor Co posted a 24 percent increase in U.S. sales for January and outsold Toyota Motor Corp as the Japanese automaker was sent reeling by a massive recall of some of its top-selling vehicles.
Toyota sales tumbled 16 percent after it suspended sales of models representing more than 60 percent of the cars on U.S. dealer lots due to faulty accelerators.
Nissan Motor Co also appeared to benefit from Toyota's woes as its January sales rose 16 percent. General Motors Co sales rose 14 percent.
Honda Motor Co, which made a point of not following its rivals in targeting Toyota customers, saw its sales drop 5 percent.
Chrysler, still the industry's weakest player, posted a sales drop of 8 percent.
The mixed results came as Toyota stumbled and major car fleet operators, including rental companies, emerged as more active buyers to replace vehicles that they have been running longer during the economic slump.
In a telling reversal, Ford's blue-oval brand outsold Toyota, Scion and Lexus on a combined basis for January. GM's volume-leading Chevrolet brand also topped Toyota.
We consider Ford as one of the companies best-positioned to benefit from Toyota's tribulations but see others looking to gain too, Standard & Poor's equity analyst Efraim Levy said.
Ford shares rose almost 3 percent in afternoon trade. The stock has posted an eight-fold gain over the past year.
By contrast, shares of Toyota were down 3.4 percent in New York trade, compounding a slide that has sent the stock down by 14 percent since its recall was announced.
One of the major factors behind Ford's sales gain was that sales to fleet operators including rental companies more than doubled, accounting for about 37 percent of its overall sales.
Retail sales through Ford showrooms were down 5 percent, in line with what analysts and executives have said was a slow month for an industry still facing an unsteady recovery.
We should not expect the road to recovery to be smooth, said Ford economist Emily Kolinski-Morris.
Along with GM and Hyundai Motor Co, Ford took aim at Toyota customers with incentive offers at the end of January when the Japanese automaker's sales went into a steep decline.
TOYOTA IN FOCUS
Toyota was forced to shut down sales of its most popular vehicles, including North American-built Camrys and Corollas, amid a recall of 2.3 million vehicles tied to faulty accelerator pedals.
Toyota's sales are expected to suffer through March at least, depending on how quickly repairs are made and how fast consumer confidence bounces back.
Ford estimated that its U.S. market share had ticked up to 16 percent in January. Toyota had 17 percent share in 2009. Including all of its brands, GM remained No. 1 in the U.S. market with 20 percent share.
Toyota said on Monday it had begun shipping parts to fix potentially sticky accelerator pedals in recalled vehicles, but dealers cautioned it would take months to complete all of the repairs.
Ford executives said the automaker expected to end 2010 with about 30 percent of overall sales to fleet operators, unchanged from 2009.
Still, the pullback in showroom purchases in January shows that American consumers are still heavily motivated by promotions and incentives, Ford said.
We can't seem to get any traction in the consumer's mind except when there is a bunch of merchandising with incentives out there, said Ford North American sales chief Ken Czubay.
Analysts and industry executives said industry-wide sales were tracking near 10.7 million units in January on an annualized basis. GM said it expected Toyota's troubles had cut 200,000 vehicles from that annualized sales rate.
That would be up from the 9.6 million rate a year earlier but down from a sales rate of 11.2 million units in December, when sales were supported by year-end incentives.
(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim and Bernie Woodall, editing by Matthew Lewis)