GM Still No. 1, but Not by Much

Toyota's gains have been aided by smaller cars and hybrids.
Toyota's gains have been aided by smaller cars and hybrids. (By Keith Srakocic -- Associated Press)
By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2008

General Motors sold 3,000 more vehicles in 2007 than Toyota did, continuing its reign as the world's biggest automaker for a 77th year -- if barely.

GM said yesterday that it sold 9,369,524 cars and trucks in 2007. Toyota originally put its 2007 global sales at 9.37 million but a spokesman in Tokyo later confirmed to the Associated Press that it sold 9.366 million vehicles. Toyota officials would not provide a more precise count, saying that level of reporting runs counter to company practices.

Much of the ground GM has lost has been on its own turf. Toyota has steadily expanded U.S. production and pounced on demand for small cars and hybrids, with such models as the Yaris and the Prius. Toyota has also challenged domestic automakers' lock on the pickup truck market with the Tundra, which is built in Texas. Last year, Toyota pushed aside Ford for second place in the U.S. market, a position Ford had held since the Great Depression.

The Japanese carmaker has not appeared particularly eager to celebrate its growing dominance. A company spokesman said Toyota is focused on "staying No. 1 in quality and customer service."

GM and Toyota have been neck and neck for the world sales crown for a year. Toyota outsold GM in the first quarter last year. GM pulled back in front in the third quarter. But GM will have to work hard to keep up. Toyota is projecting a 5 percent increase in global sales in 2008. GM hasn't made a projection.

The three Detroit automakers -- GM, Ford and Chrysler -- are all restructuring. Ford said yesterday that it had reached an agreement to offer buyouts to some of its 54,000 U.S. factory workers.

After years of booming profits from sales of sport-utility vehicles, the three companies have had to adjust to decreased demand for trucks, higher gas prices and buyers' growing environmental awareness. Among the automakers, analysts have said, GM is in the best shape and possibly the only U.S. auto company strong enough to battle Toyota over the long run.

GM said its sales will be fueled by emerging markets. The automaker said it sold more than a million vehicles in China last year. GM nearly doubled sales in Russia, to more than 258,000 cars and trucks. In Brazil, the automaker sold nearly half a million vehicles.

"Obviously we are very competitive here at GM and of course we'd like to win," said Mike DiGiovanni, the company's executive director of global market and industry analysis. "That's the nature of the very competitive business we're in."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company