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The brand race nobody (supposedly) sees

The shootout among the top three brands continues in the U.S. market.

Ford brand leads the pack in both April and year to date, after finishing No. 3 in 2008 and No. 2 last year.

In April, Toyota brand edged out Chevrolet for No. 2 by a mere 330 units. But Chevy leads Toyota by more than 10,000 units through the first four months.

Toyota finished atop the two domestic brands in both 2008 and 2009, but its recall woes have hurt sales this year despite some hefty incentives the past two months.

Officially, none of the three say they pay attention to such a, um, trivial race.

"We don't even track that kind of stuff," one top sales analyst even says with a straight face.

Yeah, right.

What's at stake here? In April, Ford, Toyota and Chevy split 43 percent of the entire U.S. market. Toss in Honda, a lagging No. 4, and the big boys grab more than half the pot.

And the past few years, the order is volatile.

OK, so talking about it openly is a bad idea. Especially if you slip a notch in the rankings.

Going for No. 1 in volume is the wrong goal to set. I get that. So does Toyota, which has acknowledged that pushing to become No. 1 globally may have contributed to its recently quality problems.

But please don't tell me that nobody peeks at the scoreboard.

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