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Asian automakers gaining ground

DETROIT -- Asian companies grabbed more of the US auto market in January, dampening the good news for US rivals who enjoyed their first monthly sales increases since employee discount deals ended last summer.

Asian automakers' sales jumped 11.4 percent for the month, while sales at the Big Three -- General Motors, Ford Motor, and Chrysler Group -- rose 4.6 percent, Autodata Corp said.

The results were surprisingly strong for January, which is usually a slow month. Automakers said warm weather and heavy fleet sales pushed up the numbers. The seasonally adjusted annual sales rate was 17.6 million vehicles. Last year's annual sales totaled 17 million vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. said its January sales were up 14 percent, largely due to increases in the sales of the Prius hybrid as well as gains in the automaker's youth-oriented Scion brand. Toyota also bucked a trend toward lower truck and sport utility vehicle sales, reporting a 13 percent increase for those vehicles.

Honda Motor Co. said its sales were up 20.7 percent in January, its eighth consecutive record-breaking month. Honda reported strong sales of the 2006 Honda Civic as well as the Honda Pilot small SUV. The company said its truck and SUV sales were up 15 percent, while car sales rose nearly 25 percent.

South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co. also saw a 16 percent increase in January. Hyundai's truck and SUV sales dropped 19 percent, but car sales were up 32 percent.

General Motors reported a 5.8 percent increase for the month due to strong car sales. Truck sales were flat for the year, although GM said it saw a 23 percent rise in full-size SUV sales as its redesigned 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe hit the market.

GM recently lowered prices on most of its vehicles and is trying to stress value instead of relying so heavily on costly, confusing incentives.

Ford's US sales rose 2.7 percent in January on the strength of its new lineup of midsize sedans.

''I think it's going to be another solid car year, for both Ford and the industry," said Ford's US sales analysis manager George Pipas.

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