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GM retains No. 1 sales edge for 2007

TOKYO — Toyota said Thursday it sold 9.366 million vehicles around the world last year, about 3,000 fewer than the tally from General Motors — the world's No. 1 automaker for 77 years.

Earlier, Toyota Motor Corp. said it had sold about 9.37 million vehicles worldwide last year, making for an extremely tight race with GM, which said it sold 9,369,524 vehicles.

But Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco confirmed the extra digit Thursday.

Both companies have denied they are too concerned about the numbers games.

Toyota executives even have expressed worries about a possible backlash if they dethrone GM, an American icon. The Japanese automaker has been setting up more plants in North America and has tried to show it's a good U.S. corporate citizen.

But the razor-thin margin that determined last year's sales leader underlines GM's struggles, with recent years of job cuts, earning losses and plant closures — as well as Toyota's phenomenal growth not only in the U.S. but in emerging markets.

Still, it was in new markets such as China that GM still led Toyota, managing to come out ahead for the time being.

But the competition in such markets is likely to determine the winner in the long run.

Toyota has seized the lead in ecological hybrids with its hit Prius, which runs on a gas engine and electric motor, selling more hybrids than any other automaker. And that edge came at a good time when consumers were looking for good mileage cars amid soaring gas prices.

Nolasco refused to comment on GM's retention of the No. 1 title. But he said that Toyota sees sales growth as a reflection of how people around the world recognize Toyota products.

"We would like to become No. 1 in quality in product offerings and services, carefully making good products, and give true happiness to our customers," he said.

GM Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner has pledged to defend the global sales title, but said the company would not abandon its U.S. strategy of cutting back on low-profit sales.

"Great cars, smart marketing, growth in the emerging markets — and hopefully that will keep us on top. If not, we'll come back to work the next day and work even harder," Wagoner said earlier this month.