Although it happened almost five months ago, reverberations from the March 11 Japanese earthquake and tsunami still are being felt, with Toyota’s monthly U.S. sales down once again.

However, the auto maker’s 19.7% falloff in July from year-ago on a daily rate basis is less than its June and May declines. It also marks a better performance than the one posted by competitor Honda, which saw sales tumble 25.6%, Ward’s data shows.

The results bring Toyota’s calendar-year tally to 943,590 units, off 7.1% from like-2010.

“We’re certainly able to move quickly and find a vehicle and satisfy the customer, but for the most part I think our stretch goals (in terms of year-over-year gains) will be constrained through the balance of this year,” Jeff Becker, vice president-sales for the Toyota Div., tells media today in a conference call.

Toyota placed third in July sales and is in the same position year-to-date, 500,000 units behind No.1 General Motors and 300,000 vehicles in back of second-place Ford.

Toyota’s monthly decline again was spread across all brands and models, with hardly any nameplates outpacing year-ago.

The best performers were the Sienna minivan, gaining 6.2%, and Avalon large sedan, flat at 0.5%. The large Lexus LX SUV and Toyota Tacoma midsize pickup both were down 4.1% from like-2010.

Toyota’s top sellers posted some of the heftiest declines in July, including the Prius hybrid, down 42% from year-ago, and Corolla compact, off 32.9%.

Instead of focusing on year-over-year losses, Toyota touts month-over-month growth as a sign it is trending in the right direction.

Camry sales rose 26% from June, says Becker, with the Venza cross/utility vehicle up 40% and Prius jumping 80%.

While Toyota continues to tout recovery of both North American and Japanese production following the quake, Toyota Div. inventory levels fell to 150,000 Aug. 1 from July 1’s stock of 180,000.

In the case of the Prius, Toyota had promised 36,000 units would be imported from Japan to the U.S. in June, July and August. It’s unclear from official comments if the Prius will achieve that level before the close of August.

Officials blame falling inventory partially on retail sales, which are robust, with units moving quickly when they arrive on dealer lots.

Toyota sees a July seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12.5 million units, on par with its forecast for calendar 2011. To achieve that Becker says Toyota sees the U.S. auto industry adding 100,000 units or more per month from now through December.

While the situation may seem more negative than positive for Toyota, the auto maker still is a “capable enterprise (with) tremendous strength” in hybrids that shouldn’t be discounted, IHS analyst Mike Jackson tells the crowd at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI, today.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com