Toyota likely to emerge as worldwide leader
January 3, 2008

DETROIT - If its estimates hold true, Toyota Motor Corp. will depose General Motors Corp. as the world's largest automaker in 2007.

GM said Thursday it made 9.284 million vehicles worldwide last year, roughly 226,000 fewer than Toyota's 2007 production estimate of 9.51 million.

Toyota expects to have final numbers later in January, but issued the 2007 estimate on Dec. 25 with just six days left in the year.

The real prize, the worldwide auto sales lead, also must still be determined, with both companies to release 2007 global sales figures later this month.

GM Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner said Thursday in an Internet chat with journalists that the companies are in a race to be the top vehicle maker.

"As I recall, we lead in 13 of the 15 largest markets, but Toyota has a huge lead in Japan," Wagoner said. "We're staying focused on our plan. 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."

GM said its production figures included several joint ventures worldwide, including one with Toyota in California and ventures in Russia and China. Toyota's estimates include its Daihatsu small car and Hino truck operations.

GM has seen huge production growth outside of North America, offsetting a decline on its home turf.

In 2002, for example, GM's Asia-Pacific unit produced 307,000 vehicles, but that grew to 2.23 million last year. North American production fell from 5.64 million in 2002 to 4.27 million last year, according to figures posted on the company's Web site.

GM predicted nearly flat production worldwide in the first quarter of 2008 compared with the same period last year, saying it expects to build about 2.29 million vehicles. The Detroit automaker has not given a forecast for the number of vehicles it expects to produce or sell for the full year in 2008.

Toyota said it plans to produce 9.95 million vehicles worldwide next year, up 5 percent from this year — the same as the projected annual percentage jump for Toyota's global sales.

Last month Toyota said it plans to sell 9.85 million vehicles worldwide in 2008, setting an ambitious target despite worries about a slowing U.S. car market.

GM has been fiercely fighting back, boosting its overseas business, and could still keep the top industry sales spot, which it has held for 76 years.

After the first nine months of this year, Toyota was — at 7.05 million vehicles sold worldwide — trailing GM's sales of 7.06 million vehicles for the same period.

GM has the industry record for annual global vehicle sales, with 9.55 million vehicles sold in 1978.

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