Toyota dethrones GM in sales


Published: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 11:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 11:26 p.m.

NEW YORK - Toyota Motor Corp. sold more cars and trucks worldwide than any other automaker last year, seizing the crown General Motors Corp. held for 77 years. But with its overall sales having fallen for the first time in 10 years and the entire industry mired in a slump, there's little for the Japanese company to celebrate.

GM said Wednesday 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 Tuesday. GM said the shortfall was mainly caused by the economic downturns in the U.S. and Europe that slashed vehicle demand in those major markets, where Toyota doesn't have as large of a presence.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, downplayed the significance of the drop to No. 2, saying that the automaker is focused on profitability rather than sales volume.

"I don't think being No. 1 in vehicle sales means much at all to the American consumer," DiGiovanni said in a conference call with reporters and analysts. "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."

DiGiovanni said all automakers are currently facing risks and challenges not seen since the Great Depression, and he pointed out that even Toyota expects to post an operating loss for the current fiscal year - its first in 70 years.

Toyota's overall global sales fell 4 percent for 2008, marking that automaker's first decline in a decade. The Japanese automaker has cut production in both North America and Japan to align its product offerings with slowing consumer demand.

GM posted an 11 percent drop in global sales, including a 21 percent drop in North America. Sales outside of the U.S. accounted for 64 percent of GM's global sales in 2008.

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