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Toyota Motor Corp. posted its largest U.S. sales increase in five months and Hyundai Motor Co. led gains for Asia-based brands as September auto demand grew at the fastest rate since the “cash for clunkers” program in 2009.

Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, reported a 17 percent increase, while Hyundai jumped 48 percent. Sales for Honda Motor Co., Japan’s second-largest carmaker, climbed 26 percent and Nissan Motor Co.’s increased 34 percent. Japanese and Korean brands raised sales a combined 27 percent, trailing a 33 percent gain for U.S. competitors and industrywide growth of 28.5 percent.

“Sales in fact were so strong during Labor Day, it felt like 2006 again,” Bob Carter, group vice president of Toyota’s U.S. sales, said Friday on a conference call.

Monthly deliveries ran at an annual rate of 11.8 million, according to researcher Autodata Corp., based in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. September’s stronger pace, up from 9.4 million a year earlier, is a sign the car market and broader economy may have bottomed out, said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends for Santa Monica, Calif.-based TrueCar.com.

“This is another step in a healthy but rather slow recovery,” Toprak said in an interview. “There were no outside forces at play, like government programs or crazy incentives, just the marketplace trying to recover on its own.”

U.S. market share for Asian brands was 46.1 percent last month, down from 46.5 percent a year earlier, according to Autodata. U.S.-based competitors raised their share to 45.2 percent, led by Ford Motor Co.’s 46 percent increase and Chrysler LLC’s 61 percent. General Motors Co.’s sales rose 11 percent.

Industrywide deliveries in September were expected to reach an 11.7 million rate, the average of nine analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. In August 2009, the pace was 14.2 million, aided by the federal subsidy for fuel-efficient models.

Toyota sold 147,162 Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles, up from 126,015 a year ago. The Toyota, Aichi Prefecture-based company’s increase in September was its biggest since April.

Gains came from higher sales of RAV4 and Highlander sport utility vehicles, Sienna minivans, Prius hybrids and Tacoma pickup trucks, the company said.

Toyota’s sales gains weren’t enough to increase its market share for the month since the overall industry grew at a faster rate. The company’s share was 15.3 percent, down from 16.9 percent a year ago, according to Autodata.

Honda, based in Tokyo, said it sold 97,361 Honda and Acura autos last month, compared with 77,229 a year ago. The company benefited from higher sales of CR-V and Pilot SUVs, Civic small cars and the new CR-Z hybrid coupe.

Still, “Honda posted their third-lowest sales figures this year, and we don’t expect much improvement until the new Odyssey and Civic models arrive at showrooms,” said Ivan Drury, an analyst with Edmunds.com in Santa Monica.

Honda’s market share was 10.2 percent, down from 10.4 percent a year ago, Autodata said.

Nissan, Japan’s third-largest automaker, sold 74,205 Nissan and Infiniti vehicles last month, up from 55,393 a year ago, Al Castignetti, vice president of U.S. sales, said in an interview. Car sales expanded 36 percent, led by a 65 percent jump for Altima sedans, he said.

“This year has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride,” Castignetti said. Sales should keep improving for the rest of 2010, particularly as light-truck demand remains strong, he said.

Market share for Nissan rose 0.3 percentage point to 7.7 percent.

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