Toyota ties GM in 2007 sales totals

GM has been the world’s largest automaker since 1931.

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors Corp. has lost the sole claim it held for 76 years as the world’s auto sales leader, as totals for 2007 released Wednesday showed the company in a virtual tie with Toyota Motor Corp.

GM said it sold 9,369,524 vehicles worldwide last year, up 3 percent from 2006. Earlier this month, Toyota reported global sales of 9.37 million vehicles. The Japanese automaker said Wednesday it would not release more precise numbers.

“The race is too close to call,” Mike DiGiovanni, GM’s executive director of global market and industry analysis said during a conference call Wednesday. “I don’t think anybody knows at this point.”

Detroit-based GM has held the title of world’s largest automaker since 1931, but Toyota’s strong growth in the United States and GM’s U.S. sales decline helped Toyota move closer to the top spot in recent years.

Toyota’s share of the U.S. market has more than doubled since 1990, when it controlled only 7.5 percent with just over 1 million in sales, according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank. Its sales have grown briskly in recent years, sometimes by double-digit percentages, as people bought its smaller, fuel-efficient cars with a reputation for reliability. By 2007, Toyota controlled 16.3 percent of the U.S. market, selling 2.6 million vehicles.

GM, while still the U.S. sales leader, has seen its U.S. market share drop dramatically since 1990, when it controlled about 35 percent by selling nearly 5 million vehicles. Last year GM’s share was roughly 23.8 percent, with sales of 3.8 million vehicles.

Aaron Bragman, an analyst with the consulting firm Global Insight, said GM and Toyota have expanded almost evenly in most emerging global markets, but GM has been hurt by sales declines in North America.

“A lot of that volume reduction has come here,” Bragman said. “They did very well in every other market except North America.”

Much of GM’s U.S. decline has been deliberate, he said, as the company cut incentives and reduced low-profit sales to rental car companies. GM’s U.S. sales last year were 6 percent below 2006 figures, due largely to a 108,000 cut in fleet sales.

“If they had kept that fleet volume up, it wouldn’t even be a competition,” Bragman said.