Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 pickup is on pace to once again earn the title of best-selling vehicle, car or truck, in 2010, but it’s likely to fall short of the 500,000-unit mark for the third year in a row.

F-150 sales in November climbed 21.3%, compared with year-ago, to 36,315, driving the truck’s year-to-date tally to 450,763, according to Ward’s data.

Ford last year delivered 392,112 F-150s, down from 476,469 in 2008. Prior to that, sales routinely were above 600,000 units, hitting a peak of 891,482 in 2004.

The decline in F-150 sales is indicative of the industry, evidenced by the pickup’s dominance in total sales. Through October, the F-150 outpaced the Toyota Camry, the best-selling U.S. passenger car, by 276,330 units and the Chevrolet Silverado pickup by 132,922.

While the F-150 is in no danger of losing its top position, Ford is making significant headway in passenger-car sales, an area where it traditionally has been weak.

Ford’s November car deliveries totaled 144,730 units and accounted for nearly a quarter of the auto maker’s overall 19.1% increase, with 24 selling days this year and 23 in like-2009.

“(The) Fiesta and Focus (in November) combined for 10% of the small-car market,” Ken Czubay, Ford vice president-sales and marketing, says in a conference call with reporters and analysts. “That’s our highest share in at least six years and a key to our long-term growth.”

Particularly pleasing to Ford is the success some of its new cars are having in California, the largest U.S. market, where the Detroit Three traditionally have underperformed.

“It’s a great opportunity for us as we shift to a more balanced portfolio,” Czubay says. “We’re also making progress in each of the age segments, particularly with younger buyers. Ten of the top 25 Fiesta dealers were in California. (The car has) really caught on in this critical market.”

According to Ford’s data, its retail market share in the western U.S. now stands at 11%, up nearly a full percentage point from prior-year, with most of the gain coming from the 18-24 age group.

Other cars that performed well in November include the Ford Fusion, up 25.0%, and Lincoln MKZ, up 20.3%.

Among Ford’s light trucks, sales of the Edge cross/utility vehicle soared 48.7%, while deliveries of the Expedition SUV rose 19.7%.

Poor performers for the month included the Lincoln MKT CUV, down 12.7% to a meager 590 deliveries, and the Ford Taurus, off 14.4% to 4,172.

bpope@wardsauto.com