DETROIT (AP) – Toyota Motor Corp. overtook Ford Motor Co. to become the No. 2 automaker by U.S. sales in 2007, using new products and relentless strategy to break Ford’s 75-year lock on the position.

Toyota sold 2.62 million cars and trucks in 2007, which amounted to 48,226 more than Ford, according to sales figures released yesterday. Toyota’s sales were up 3 percent for the year, buoyed by new products like the Toyota Tundra pickup, which saw sales jump 57 percent. Ford’s sales fell 12 percent to 2.572 million vehicles.

General Motors Corp. remained the U.S. sales leader, selling 3.82 million vehicles in 2007. But that was down 6 percent from the previous year as customers turned away from some large sedans and sport utility vehicles and GM cut low-profit sales to employees and rental car agencies. GM’s car sales fell 8 percent for the year while truck sales were down 4 percent.

Overall, the year was the worst for the auto industry since 1998 as consumers fretted over high gas prices, falling home prices and the economy. U.S. sales totaled 16.1 million for the year, down from 16.6 million in 2006, according to Autodata Corp.

December also was a tough month for automakers despite a slew of holiday discounts. Toyota’s sales slipped 2 percent for the month, while GM’s sales were down 4 percent and Ford’s fell 9 percent.

Nissan Motor Co.’s December sales were down 2.4 percent, while Honda Motor Co.’s December sales were flat, with a 10 percent increase in car sales canceled out by a 10 percent decline in truck sales.

“This was definitely a challenging year to be in the car business, and 2008 isn’t likely to be a piece of cake,” Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda, said in a statement.

Colliver said automakers with more fuel-efficient offerings fared better as gas prices took their toll. Honda’s full-year sales were up 2.5 percent, thanks in part to booming sales of the Fit subcompact, while Nissan’s shot up 5 percent thanks to strong sales of the Versa subcompact.

Chrysler LLC also had a solid December, with sales up 1 percent for the month thanks to brisk sales of the new Dodge Caravan minivan, which saw a 51 percent jump. Chrysler sales were down 3 percent for the year as falling truck and SUV sales erased gains on the car side.

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