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Out front in the US auto sales race it's . . . Escort

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What's the best-selling automobile in the United States right now? You can cross off the imports, Japanese or otherwise. It's not the Chevrolet Chevette or any other car by mind-boggling General Motors. And it certainly isn't an American Motors product, nor is it a Chrysler.

Since April the largest-volume car in the US is the Ford Escort.

In an effort to hang its optimism on anything handy these days, Ford Motor Company is touting the success of the Escort, even though it is about to start paying dealers up to $600 extra per car to move some of its slow sellers off the lot.

"It's far more fashionable today to talk about what's wrong than what's right ," sighs Louis Lataif, head of the Ford division.

Even so, Ford sold 28,400 Escorts in June, not counting the Mercury version, Lynx. Also, the figures does not include the not-long-ago-introduced two-seaters, Ford EXP and Mercury LN-7.

Chevette was the second-best-selling car, with 24,400 moved off the lot in June. The Chevrolet Citation was in third spot, with 23,400; and, in fourth spot (fourth spot!m ), the Toyota Corolla with 22,000.

Otherwise, June was one more disappointing month for the domestic auto industry as car inventories rose to uncomfortable heights. Ford, for example, had an 81-day supply of new cars on hand July 1, up from 73 1/2 June 1, according to Automotive News, the trade weekly. The days' supply of Thunderbird was 122. GM's inventory of unsold cars topped a million, or an 85-day supply. Chrysler's inventory was up to 86 days from 73; and American Motors, 75 1/2 vs. 40.

Volkswagen of America reduced its supply of cars during June from 72 days at the start of the month to 66 1/2 at the end.

To make matters worse for Detroit, the imports still took some 28 percent of all car sales during June, although they were up only slightly from a year ago. The import share of the market, in fact, remains fairly constant, despite the US- Japan pact, because of inventories of cars already in the country.

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