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An odd month yields strange numbers

We knew going in that May would be an odd U.S. sales month, shaped as much by the Japan quake fallout and high fuel prices as traditional macroeconomic factors.

Even so, May sales numbers look strange.

-- Chrysler Group outsold both Toyota Motor Sales and American Honda.

-- Hyundai-Kia outsold American Honda, and missed catching Toyota by 961units.

-- Nissan North American fell 31,000 units behind Hyundai-Kia.

-- The Toyota Camry was outsold by the Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu and Nissan Altima. The Toyota Corolla was bested by the Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze.

With high fuel prices, fuel-efficient cars and smaller SUVs and crossovers are hot, hot, hot. At the moment, Toyota, Honda and to a lesser extent other Japanese manufacturers don't have many of them. That will gradually change, but it will be a few months until Japanese suppliers can fully restore production.

Until then, Hyundai-Kia and the Detroit 3 will eat Toyota and Honda's lunch, with some scraps going to Volkswagen of America.

But sometime this summer or fall, production will normalize.

U.S. fuel prices may well have peaked -- at $3.74 a gallon this week, regular gasoline has fallen back to April 11 levels -- and that could boost demand for pickups and big SUVs, reversing what has been a springtime disadvantage for the Detroit 3.

So it soon will be a level playing field again. And as incentives pick up again -- as they already did today at Toyota -- and as margins fall, demand is likely to perk back up.

Who will benefit? The only safe bet: Virtually all the market share that product-short Honda and Toyota are giving up will remain in play.

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