Toyota overtakes GM sales for first time
By Michiyo Nakamoto in Tokyo and John Reed in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 25 2007 03:00 | Last updated: April 25 2007 03:00
Toyota has unseated General Motors as the world's largest carmaker for the first time, as group worldwide sales in the first quarter exceeded those of its US rival.
The Japanese carmaker yesterday reported a 9 per cent increase in worldwide sales to 2.35m in the three months to March compared with 2.26m units for GM.
Toyota's eclipsing of GM largely reflects the poor performance of America's three big carmakers in their home market, where more buyers are shunning large gas-guzzlers for fuel-efficient Japanese cars.
Fifteen per cent of Americans who bought cars last year bought a Toyota.
GM is doing well in many foreign markets and still sells more cars than Toyota in the US but is losing market share to it and other foreign rivals. Toyota last year surpassed Chrysler as America's third largest carmaker.
Toyota is the world's most profitable one too, and rivals from Italy's Fiat to GM itself use some of its financial and productivity ratios as benchmarks.
The company's rise to the top global spot caps a re-markable journey for a company founded in the 19th century by the inventor of Japan's first power loom, which grew to become a pioneer of lean production.
Toyota's success is likely to fuel calls in the US for action to protect the Detroit-area carmakers. Michigan's Debbie Stabenow, a member of the Senate finance committee, has described the yen as "substantially undervalued" and has blamed its weakness for putting US carmakers at a disadvantage.
Toyota is trying to avert potential backlash by stressing its good corporate citizenship.
It makes most of the cars it sells in the US locally, and recently named Jim Press - head of North American operations - as its first non-Japanese director.
It sought to play down yesterday's milestone. "We're not commenting on comparative performance," Toyota said. "It's a reflection of how our products have become accepted by customers round the world."
GM pointed out that it had set sales records in several foreign markets in the first quarter and that it was "still a sales leader by a substantial margin" in the US.
"We welcome the competition but we won't let it distract us from offering the best cars and trucks we can," GM said.
Toyota said that itsresult, which includes sales by its Daihatsu and Hino subsidiaries, was supported by buoyant demand in the US, where sales were up 11 per cent in the fourth quarter.
Camrys, the RAV4 sports utility vehicle and the Prius hybrid were behind the rise in sales, Toyota said.