Toyota slipped behind General Motors in global sales in the second quarter but retained its lead for the first-half of the year, numbers showed Friday, as the two companies jostle for the title world's biggest automaker.
The figures - and sales growth rates - indicate that Toyota could overtake GM as the No. 1 automaker, a title the U.S. giant has held for 76 years. Typically, rankings are determined by full-year production figures, not sales, so that distinction will have to wait until data is tallied for the entire year.
Toyota Motor Corp. said worldwide sales in the April-June quarter totaled 2.37 million vehicles, while GM said its global sales reached 2.41 million, according to preliminary numbers.
In the first quarter, Toyota sold more cars and trucks around the world than GM for the first time ever - 2.35 million vehicles to GM's 2.27 million.
But strong growth at General Motors Corp. in Latin America, Asia and other emerging markets lifted sales by 0.4 percent in the most recent quarter, again putting it ahead of Toyota.
The Japanese manufacturer said its quarterly sales rose at a much faster rate of 7 percent. Many analysts expect that Toyota will surpass GM in both sales and production for the full year.
Figures tallying sales for the first six months of the year give Toyota the edge, 4.72 million vehicles sold compared with the 4.67 million for GM.
"Toyota is making a solid move to the top," said Shigeru Matsumura, an auto analyst with SMBC Friend Securities Co. in Tokyo. "The company's comprehensive strength in the fields of production, technology and sales has been made over a long spell. Its solid footing is stronger than that of GM's."
The Toyota City-based automaker has snatched U.S. market share away from Detroit automakers as the surge in oil prices has increased demand for Toyota's fuel-efficient models, including the Corolla, Camry and hybrid Prius.
A decade ago, GM controlled about a third of the U.S. market while Toyota had barely 8 percent. Today, GM's share has dwindled to 24 percent, while Toyota's has climbed to more than 15 percent, a market share comparable to Ford Motor Co.
But Toyota's success has triggered concern among its executives of a political backlash in the United States. Lawmakers from manufacturing states claim the Japanese government has kept the yen artificially low, giving Japanese automakers an advantage.
Some U.S. legislators also criticize Toyota for importing nearly half the vehicles it sells in the United States. Last year, Toyota imported 46 percent of its U.S. sales.
To deflect criticism, Toyota has steadily expanded production capacity in the U.S., in April breaking ground in Tupelo, Mississippi, for its eighth vehicle assembly plant in North America, the fourth in five years. The factory is set to begin production in 2010.
A series of recent recalls has also raised some doubts whether Toyota can maintain quality standards as its global sales expand rapidly. Toyota executives have repeatedly expressed concerns about sliding quality and have promised to strengthen quality controls.
GM, meanwhile, is seeing its biggest sales grow outside the United States. Its sales in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East grew 19.7 percent during the quarter, while sales in Asia rose 8.2 percent. Sales in Europe rose 4.7 percent, while sales in North American fell 7 percent, the company said.
In the first quarter, Toyota's group global production totaled 2.37 million vehicles, slightly more than GM's 2.34 million. Toyota is set to release second quarter output numbers later this month.
In 2006, Toyota's global production was about 9 million vehicles, while GM and its affiliates produced 9.18 million vehicles worldwide.
Toyota shares rose 20 yen, or 0.27 percent, to close Friday at 7,560 yen. GM shares fell 62 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $35.38 Thursday.
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