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Sales of domestically made cars virtually stalled during mid-May, coasting to the side of the road to post a 19.3 percent drop from year-ago levels - and the lowest annual selling rate so far this year.

Domestic light truck sales fell 15 percent from a year ago when measured by sales per day, automakers said Wednesday. Combined, U.S. vehicle sales dropped 17.7 percent during the May 11-20 period.The annual sales rate for domestically built cars - the most common measure of industry performance - was a weak 5.6 million cars during the latest period, as against 6.8 million last year. It was the lowest rate since early December 1989.

"Showroom traffic is slow pretty much throughout the country," said Joel Pitcoff, a sales analyst for Ford Motor Co. "Nobody seems to have a real handle on it, but it isn't just rain-ing on us."

Pitcoff also said that fewer fleet deliveries may be partially responsible for the sales stall. "That well is starting to run dry."

Some industry observers said buyers may be holding out for better buyer discounts after top carmakers renewed incentive programs with less lucrative offers earlier this month. Consumers may also be reacting to headlines that say interest rates will decline, so financing costs may be lower.

But other analysts said a steady, incremental increase in late-model used cars from daily rental fleets is hurting carmakers, as manufacturers are forced to buy back their cars at pre-determined prices and dispose of them themselves.

"The daily rental fleets are going into the used car market and attracting price-conscious buyers who often can get the same financing and warranty as on a new car," said Michael Luckey, of The Luckey Consulting Group, in Tappan, N.J.

The nine companies, General Motors Corp., Ford, Chrysler Corp., American Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Manufacturing U.S.A., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Mazda Motor Manufacturing (USA) Corp., Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, Inc. and Subaru-Isuzu Automotive Inc. (SIA) reported combined sales of 160,645 cars and 98,465 trucks in the United States during mid-May.

This compared with 223,897 cars and 130,339 trucks sold in the year-ago period, automakers said.

The daily selling rate of 32,389 vehicles compared with 39,360 vehicles per day for the same period last year. There were eight selling days this year, compared with nine last year.

So far in 1990, the firms have sold nearly 2.65 million cars, down 5.5 percent from the 2.8 million units sold in the comparable 1989 period. Sales of light trucks were 1.58 million units, down 2.5 percent from 1.62 million trucks sold during the same period a year ago.

GM, Ford and Chrysler all posted double-digit drops in both car and truck sales during the period when compared with a year ago.

Sales of GM's domestically made cars fell 23.7 percent from a year ago, while its truck sales were off 16.7 percent. Second-ranked Ford's car sales fell 29.9 percent, while its truck sales were off 12 percent.

Chrysler's car sales fell 22.1 percent, while its light truck sales including Jeep fell 21 percent when compared with the combined total a year ago.

Among the smaller companies reporting sales of U.S.-built cars, Honda posted a 22.5 percent gain. Toyota's sales rose 117.1 percent from relatively low volumes a year ago.

Nissan reported a 63 percent gain in sales of its U.S.-built cars, while its domestically made compact truck sales rose 32 percent, both from very low year-ago levels.

Mazda sold 1,272 cars produced at its Flat Rock, Mich. assembly plant, compared with 985 a year ago. Mitsubishi reported sales of 1,154 Eclipse cars built at its joint venture plant with Chrysler in Illinois, as against 854 a year ago.

SIA sold 100 Subaru cars and 373 Isuzu trucks built at its new joint venture plant in Larayette, Ind., during the latest period.