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Cars outsell Ford trucks in rapid shift

First time since 1992, F-series sales slipped. GM, Ford are cutting output, closing plants.

DETROIT - Cars outsold the top-selling Ford F-series truck in May for the first time since 1992, a sign of the rapid shift in customers' preferences from trucks and SUVs to small cars. The change is forcing painful production cuts and plant closures at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.

GM said yesterday that its U.S. sales fell 28 percent in May compared with a year ago, while Ford's sales fell 16 percent. Chrysler L.L.C.'s sales were down 25 percent, and Toyota Motor Corp.'s sales slipped 4 percent.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd., riding the wave of customers seeking better fuel efficiency, said its sales jumped 18 percent, led by a 36 percent increase in car sales. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. said its sales rose 8 percent, with a 19 percent increase in car sales.

The Toyota Corolla and Camry and Honda Civic and Accord sedans all outsold the F-series truck, which saw sales plummet 31 percent in May to 42,973. F-series trucks have been the best-selling trucks in the United States for 31 years and the best-selling vehicles overall for nearly as long. They also have been the best-selling vehicles each month since June 2005, when the Chevrolet Silverado pickup took a brief lead.

George Pipas, Ford's top U.S. sales analyst, said the last time a car topped the monthly sales charts was the Ford Taurus sedan in December 1992.

"May was a watershed month," Ford's sales chief Jim Farley said in a conference call with media and analysts.

High gasoline prices, the weak economy, and low consumer confidence are taking their toll on larger vehicles. Farley said small and mid-size cars made up 47 percent of sales in May, up from 34 percent - or 1.5 million vehicles - in February.

GM's decline was in part because of strikes at supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. and several GM plants, which the automaker said cost 15,000 to 18,000 sales. GM's truck and SUV sales fell 37 percent, while car sales fell 14 percent. The rapid decline in truck and SUV sales caused GM to announce yesterday that it plans to close four truck and SUV plants by 2010, costing 10,000 jobs.

Ford's U.S. car sales were up 3 percent compared with last May, and it sold more than 30,000 Ford Focus small cars for only the second time in the car's nine-year history. But pickup and SUV sales dropped 26 percent.

Ford said last month that it planned to slash North American production of trucks and SUVs for the rest of the year. Ford also is planning to lay off salaried workers. Ford promised more details on its restructuring plan in July.

Chrysler's car sales fell 33 percent, and its truck sales were down 22 percent despite an incentive program that lets buyers lock in gasoline prices at $2.99 a gallon. Chrysler said the decline was mainly due to a 40 percent cutback in sales to rental car companies and other fleets.

Toyota's U.S. sales dropped 4 percent for the month, as flat results for cars were dragged down by a 12 percent decline in trucks and SUVs.