Prius sedans at a Toyota dealership in the south Denver suburb of Littleton,… (Associated Press )
Toyota and Volkswagen are leading a charge of import brands in U.S. auto sales, eating into market-share gains made by the Detroit automakers over the last year.
The domestic automakers sold 530,000 vehicles in April, accounting for 44.8% of the market. That share was down from 46.5% in the same month a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp.
Asian brands sold 536,000 vehicles in April, accounting for 45.3% of the market. That's up from a share of 44.9% a year earlier.
European car companies sold 118,000 vehicles, accounting for 10% of the market. That's up from 8.6% a year earlier.
A resurgent Toyota accounted for virtually all of the gain among the Asian brands.
Its sales rose 11.6%, compared with industry sales growth of 2.3% in April. Its market share rose to 15%, from 13.8% a year ago. The only other Asian brand to log a measurable market share gain was Subaru, which rose to 2.2% of the market, from 2.1%.
Honda, Nissan and Kia all lost ground.
Toyota's success is coming from its redesigned Camry, which sold nearly 37,000 units and was up 21% from a year ago, and its Prius hybrids, which doubled their sales from a year ago.
The Camry is the most popular passenger car in America, and the Prius is now third behind the second-place Honda Accord.
Toyota's market position has declined in recent years, following a series of large recalls and then inventory problems created by last year's Japanese earthquake.
Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at IHA Automotive, called Toyota's gains, "amazing." She noted that Toyota's strategy of expanding the Prius line of hybrids to include a station wagon and a small car have paid off.
Among the European brands, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all grabbed a bigger slice of auto sales last month. But the VW brand, helped by strong sales of its Jetta and Passat sedans, grew the most. VW’s market share rose to 3.2%, from 2.5% during April 2011.
The gains by Toyota and the Europeans are coming mostly at the expense of General Motors and Ford. GM’s April market share was 18%, down from 20.1% a year ago. Ford’s was 15.2%, down 16.3% from a year ago.
If the trend holds, Toyota will next month pass Ford to once again become the second-largest auto seller in the U.S.
Chrysler's gains offset some of the loss by the domestic brands. Chrysler’s share of the market rose to 11.6%, from 10% in the same month a year earlier.