By Mira Oberman

CHICAGO — The Detroit Three carmakers captured more than half the sales in the US market for the first time since September 2008 amid supply shortages caused by the Japanese quake, industry data showed Friday.

Toyota and Honda have been hardest hit by the March 11 disaster which disrupted global supply chains just as the US auto industry was beginning to recover from a deep economic downturn which pushed sales down to levels not seen in decades.

That helped push the market share of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler to 50.1 percent in June from 49.6 percent in May and 46.5 percent in April, according to Autodata.

Ford sales analyst George Pipas cautioned that the share gains will likely be "short-term" and noted that they came from meeting existing sales targets in a shrinking overall market.

"As the denominator shrinks, our market share is going to go up," he said in a conference call.

Industry sales fell off sharply in May after automakers cut back on incentives and even raised prices as dealers began to run out of stock.

High fuel prices also weighed on their results.

The annualized rate in June dropped to 11.5 million vehicles from just over 13 million vehicles posted monthly in the February-April period, according to Autodata.

However, total deliveries rose 7.1 percent from June 2010's depressed levels to 1.1 million vehicles and sales for the first half of the year remain strong, up 12.8 percent at 5.6 million vehicles.

With production ramping up rapidly and fuel prices stabilizing, executives at GM, Ford and Toyota said they expect sales to resume their recovery and have maintained their forecasts for 2011 sales in the 12.5 to 13.5 million range.

"We believe that the recovery will go back on track," Don Johnson, GM vice president for US sales, said in a conference call.

"We are not cutting our forecast."

GM's sales rose 10 percent to 215,358 in June and were up 16.8 percent at nearly 1.3 million vehicles for the the first six months of the year.

"The month caps a successful first half of 2011 for us in the US market," Johnson added. "Our sales are up and we've gained share profitably."

Ford posted a 14 percent gain in June with 194,114 vehicles sold and was up 12 percent gain for the first half of the year with sales of nearly 1.1 million vehicles.

Chrysler marked its 15th consecutive month of year-over-year sales gains and its best June since 2007 with sales up 30 percent to 120,394 vehicles.

That helped boost its results for the first half of the year by 21 percent to 639,932 vehicles.

Chrysler, which got back in the black in the first quarter of this year for the first time since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009, has completely revamped its product offerings and was one of the only big carmakers to post a sales gain last month.

Toyota's sales dropped 21 percent to 110,937 in June - knocking it down to fourth place for the second month in a row - and were down 4.4 percent for the first half of the year at 402,487 vehicle.

Honda dropped 21 percent to 83,892 vehicles in June but was up 2.3 percent at 593,909 vehicles in the first six months of the year.

"Both Honda and Toyota had the worst June since 1997," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with the automotive website

"The question on everyone's mind: Will they be able to regain momentum? We believe that inventory hit the low point already this month so it is likely to get better from here for the automakers most affected by the earthquake."

Toyota executives also expressed optimism for the coming months.

"Our inventories were down 40 percent. It's pretty hard to sell cars and trucks when you don't have them," Don Esmond, head of automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales USA, said in a conference call.

"Looking ahead with production approaching normal levels and an influx of new products slated for later this year, we're extremely optimistic about the second half of 2011."

"We're also starting to see some stability in fuel prices which is bringing people back into the market," added Bob Carter who heads the Toyota Division.

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