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Jan 21, 2009

Toyota overtakes General Motors as World Biggest Carmaker

Toyota has become the world’s biggest carmaker for the first time, knocking General Motors off the top slot after a 77-year unbroken period in pole position.

The Japanese group had been expected to take the lead a year ago after pushing ahead in a much stronger global market than the current one, but GM confounded car industry experts by holding on by a slim margin.

Yesterday, however, the American company said that its global sales had fallen 11 per cent the previous year to 8.35 million vehicles, which allowed its rival to overtake it. This week Toyota said that it had sold 8.97 million cars last year, a fall of only 4 per cent.

Both carmakers played down the shift in positions, coming as it did in one of the bleakest car markets for many years, although GM had said previously that it had been important for it to keep the top slot for corporate pride.

Don Esmond, Toyota’s senior vice-president for US operations, said: “Share doesn’t always pay the bills.”

Fritz Henderson, GM’s chief operating officer, said that the company would focus on other measures to show that it was turning its operations around: “I actually noticed that they passed us in market capitalisation, profitability and cashflow long ago,” he said.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM’s sales analyst, said that all companies were focusing on profitability and survival. He said: “I don’t think being No 1 in global sales means much at all to the average consumer. I think it’s an internal benchmark of our industry.”

GM is working to an end-of-March deadline to present a viability plan to the US Government to show that it deserves the $13.4 billion (£9.7 billion) emergency loan that it has been given to avert bankruptcy.

GM shares have suffered over the past couple of years and now it has a market capitalisation of just under $2 billion. Toyota has a market value of about $117 billion, although, like all major carmakers, it is suffering from the woeful state of the market. It has warned that it will record its first operating loss for its current financial year.

GM had more success than Toyota in many emerging markets. Last year the US carmaker sold 64 per cent of its vehicles outside the United States, up from 59 per cent in 2007. Sales in its domestic market fell by 20 per cent in 2008 but there were gains of 10 per cent in Brazil, 30 per cent in Russia, 9 per cent in India and 6 per cent in China.

The previous year GM remained in the global top slot by a tiny margin. It sold 9.369 million vehicles, while Toyota sold 9.366 million.

Source : TimesOnline
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