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Official – Toyota is No. 1

Finally No. 1: Toyota is top dog in the world auto industry, despite a decline in global sales last year.

Toyota finally ends GM’s 77-year reign as the world’s top-selling car-maker

Toyota logo22 Jan 2009

GENERAL Motors has relinquished its crown as the world’s top-selling automaker – a position it has held since 1932 – dropping more than half a million units behind Toyota globally in 2008.

The embattled US giant announced overnight that it sold 8,355,947 cars and trucks around the world in 2008, falling about 616,000 vehicles short of the 8.972 million Toyota announced a day earlier.

Given the parlous state of the global car industry and the fact that Toyota has suffered its first downturn in a decade – not to mention its impending first financial loss in 70 years – the Japanese company is unlikely to indulge in much public gloating over its rise to global dominance.

Toyota’s ascendancy to the top position was somewhat inevitable and almost came at the end of 2007, when the company fell short by just 3000 units.

Although Toyota’s global sales fell 4 per cent in 2008, GM’s fall of 11 per cent – led by a 21 per cent decline in North America – sealed its fate.

However, GM has downplayed the significance of dropping to No. 2 and, with the US government breathing down its neck over a $US13.4 billion lifeline, is simply focused on returning to profitability.

“I don’t think being No. 1 in vehicle sales means much at all to the American consumer,” GM’s executive director of global market and industry analysis, Mike DiGiovanni, told a media conference.

“I think what matters most to the consumer is strong brands and strong products. And the key thing right now, with what the industry is going through now, is viability and profitability.”

Mr DiGiovanni said all automakers were facing risks and challenges not seen since the Great Depression.

He pointed out that even Toyota expected to post an operating loss this financial year.

He said Toyota’s move to the top of the sales rankings did not necessarily signal a turning point in the industry, adding that it was possible that GM could regain the top spot once the US and European markets recovered and sales in key emerging markets improved.

“That story has yet to be written,” Mr DiGiovanni said. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”

As well as the big loss in its home market, GM’s sales in Europe dipped 6.5 per cent, but were partly offset by a 3.2 per cent increase in the Latin America, Africa and Middle East region, and 2.7 per cent growth in Asia-Pacific sales.

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