TOKYO (Reuters) — Toyota Motor Corp. outsold General Motors by around 90,000 vehicles in the first quarter, moving a step closer to unseating its US rival as the world’s biggest automotive manufacturer.
Toyota has been widely expected to challenge 99-year-old GM this year for the top spot in global sales — a position the Detroit behemoth has held for 76 years — but the milestone came surprisingly early, industry watchers said.
Both companies reported record sales for January-March, but Japan’s top car manufacturer inched past GM as it ate into the US group’s market share on its home turf.
Toyota, manufacturer of the Camry sedan — the United States’ most popular car — said today its global vehicle sales rose nine per cent to 2.35 million units in the quarter. The tally includes cars sold under the Lexus luxury brand and the youth-oriented Scion badge, as well as vehicles from units Daihatsu and Hino.
GM, which sells cars and trucks under a dozen brands including Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Opel, Saab and Holden, sold 2.26 million units during the same period, for a three per cent rise.
Toyota has won fans around the world with affordable cars seen as reliable, durable and fuel-efficient, while GM continued to rely heavily on high-margin but gas-guzzling vehicles to pull it out of financial difficulties.
To keep up with soaring demand, Toyota is adding production capacity in almost every corner of the globe, from San Antonio, Texas, to St. Petersburg, Russia, with an internal goal of taking 15 per cent of the global car market by 2010.
GM estimated its share in the first quarter at 13 per cent, down one-tenth of a percentage point from a year ago.
This year, Toyota has plans to sell 9.34 million vehicles as a group, up six per cent from 2006. GM does not provide a global sales forecast.
The breakneck pace of growth, however, has presented some hiccups for Toyota in recent years as vehicle recalls climbed to record levels.
Last year Toyota recalled more than a million vehicles in Japan and 760,000 in the United States, raising concerns that the company was stretching itself too thin too fast.
After a series of high-profile recalls including a legal probe into past recall practices, President Katsuaki Watanabe publicly vowed last year to step up Toyota’s quality vigilance, assigning two executive vice presidents to oversee the effort.
While sales volume is the most common yardstick for a car manufacturer’s size, Toyota dwarfs its rival in almost every other measure. Its market capitalization, at $225 billion, is more than 12 times that of GM’s.
Toyota expects to post a net profit of US$13 billion (1.55 trillion yen) for the business year ended last month, probably more than any Japanese company, while GM is struggling to make money. It lost US$3 billion in 2006 and US$12 billion the year before.