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Rise in auto sales expected to continue

DETROIT - U.S. auto sales sputtered back to life in 2010, and car companies expect them to keep climbing this year as the economy recovers and buyers grow more confident.

With sales of around 11.5 million new cars and trucks, 2010 was still the second-worst year in almost three decades, after 2009. And car companies are starting to wonder if they will ever reach the heights they saw in the early 2000s, when credit was cheap, incentives were rampant and sales topped 17 million.

Still, 2010 was a good year for Detroit's car companies. Ford Motor Co.'s sales rose 15 percent, and it grabbed market share from rivals for the second year in a row. General Motors Co.'s sales rose 6.3 percent, while Chrysler climbed 17 percent, an impressive rebound from 2009 when the two companies restructured in bankruptcy court.

Other winners included South Korea's Hyundai, which notched record sales.

Toyota Motor Corp. continued to struggle. Its sales were flat in 2010, a casualty of the company's tarnished safety record. Toyota has recalled more than 10 million vehicles since late 2009 for various issues, including sticky gas pedals.

GM sold 2.2 million vehicles in 2010, nearly 131,000 more than the prior year, even though it got rid of four brands to focus on Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC. The company's December sales rose 7.5 percent because of hot sellers such as the Chevrolet Equinox, a smaller SUV that seats five.

Ford's sales rose thanks to strong demand for its pickups, as construction companies and other small businesses began buying trucks again. The F-150 pickup was the best-selling vehicle in the United States last year. Ford sold 1.9 million cars and trucks.- AP

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