Toyota still ahead of GM as world's biggest carmaker

Toyota's year couldn't have been an awful lot worse. But it has still retained its crown as the world's biggest carmaker...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Toyota passed a significant milestone in 2008, when it overtook General Motors to become the world’s biggest carmaker. And even after an annus horribilis in which it had to recall more than 10m vehicles, it has still managed to hang onto the top spot: it flogged 8.49m vehicles last year, a smidgen higher than GM’s 8.39m. Its reputation may have taken a battering in the US, but it’s still going great guns in the East…

Despite its triumph, Toyota was sadly unwilling to gloat: ‘Being number one in terms of sales is not important for us… our objective is to become number one with the customer, in terms of service and customer satisfaction,’ was the party line trotted out by its spokesman. When you consider that Toyota cars have problems with brakes, vital bits of software and even floor mats, we’d imagine that ‘customer satisfaction’ is going to need particular care and attention this year.

As you’d expect, given its high-profile problems on the other side of the pond, Toyota suffered a big drop-off in US sales, where those recalls have clearly had a big impact on the consciousness of the car-buying public (although the eco-friendly Prius hybrid fared pretty well, enjoying the best sales growth of any of its cars). However, it was a different story closer to home: in Japan, sales jumped 10%, while in China, Toyota fared even better, with sales up a whopping 19%.

2010 may have been a mixed year for Toyota, but it was a pretty good one for GM: the US carmaker might not have quite managed to dethrone Toyota, but it did considerably better in the US market, with a 6.3% rise in sales. It also saw huge gains in China, where sales leaped by almost a third (even better than Toyota). This pushed overall sales up 6.3%. For a company that not long ago was forced into a major restructuring after entering bankruptcy protection and being bailed out by the US government, that’s a pretty impressive recovery.

So will it be able to surpass Toyota and regain its crown in 2011? Much will depend on whether the Japanese car-maker has finally been able to put its much-publicised problems behind it. But it’s likely to be a much closer race than anyone would have predicted this time 12 months ago.

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