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Old 10-24-2007, 01:00 PM
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GM regains auto sales lead over Toyota

Oct 23, 2007 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- GM | charts | news | PowerRating -- After a strong third quarter, General Motors Corp. regained its No. 1 ranking.

The Detroit-based automaker reported global sales of 7.06 million for the first nine months of the year, a number boosted by overseas sales, particularly of the Chevrolet brand and the Opel Corsa small car.

That's a lead of 10,000 vehicles over Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp., which has taken its share of dings in recent weeks, from losing top executives to watching its reputation for top quality questioned by Consumer Reports magazine.

And while GM's sales lead is relatively small given the millions of cars and trucks sold around the world, it's clear there's some psychological importance in the crown -- not just for GM but for Detroit, whose automotive muscle has weakened after decades of competition from foreign automakers.

"It's a morale booster, for GM and the other Detroit automakers," said Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore. "If GM can bat back the Toyota onslaught," other U.S. automakers can, too.

Despite the closely watched sales ranking, both GM and Toyota downplayed its importance Monday, after Toyota reported its global sales results. GM had reported its worldwide sales results last week. Toyota took over the top spot after the first quarter this year.

"We've been No. 1 for 76 years. We like being No. 1, and we're going to stay focused on our long-term goals," said GM spokesman John McDonald.

However, he added, "The question of who's No. 1 and 2 ... we can't let it distract us from the job we have, which is to build the best cars and trucks we can around the world. Obviously, we're fighting for every sale."

Toyota isn't in a battle to sell the most cars and trucks either, said company spokesman John McCandless.

"There's no goal to be the No. 1 volume maker," he said.

Despite that, he emphasized that GM's lead is very small and that the full year of 2007 "is probably going to be very close."

In 2006, GM had 9.09 million sales, while Toyota reported 8.8 million.

Some experts questioned GM's numbers, saying the company incorrectly included some Chinese sales. Excluding those figures would have brought GM's number to 8.68 million sales, below Toyota's.

For 2007, Toyota set a global sales target of 9.34 million vehicles. Some interpreted that number as meaning Toyota had set goals of being No. 1 and beating GM, which does not give forecasts for full-year figures.

Toyota took the lead in the first quarter, with 2.35 million vehicles to GM's 2.26 million.

GM outsold Toyota in the second quarter, but Toyota maintained the front spot for the year by 39,000 cars and trucks.

GM's performance through September reflects some hard charging through the third quarter, especially in the automaker's business units outside of North America.

GM reported record sales in three of its overseas units. Sales in the Latin America, Africa and Middle East unit were up 20% from a year ago. In the Asia-Pacific region, they were up 16%. Europe scored a double-digit gain of 15%.

In all, GM has reported 21 consecutive quarters of year-over-year growth outside the United States.

GM's Chevrolet sales were strong around the world, too. The best-selling brand in GM's portfolio, Chevrolet delivered 1.18 million sales in the third quarter, up 5% from a year ago. The brand is up 3.2% for the first nine months of the year.

A few automotive experts said the niceties coming out of GM and Toyota on the subject belie the true competitiveness behind the scenes.

"This is a fistfight," said Spinella, who said he believes both automakers want leadership, no matter what statements they make publicly.

However, David Cole, president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said being No. 1 is not as important as profits. So although pride may be wrapped up in the crown, profitability is the true measure of success and who's No. 1.

Holding the top spot, he emphasized, is a "hollow victory if you're not profitable."

Last year, Toyota clearly beat GM on the profitability point. Toyota reported a profit of $14 billion, while GM reported a $2-billion loss.

Brett Hoselton, an auto analyst with Keybanc Capital Markets in Cleveland, agreed. Despite GM's strong performance overseas, the automaker must maintain its market share in the United States to stay financially strong, he said. U.S. sales still make up 57% of the company's sales volume.

Because when you get down to the bottom line, Hoselton said, "GM still has a long way to catch up to Toyota."

Contact SARAH A. WEBSTER at 313-222-5394 or swebster@freepress.com.

To see more of the Detroit Free Press, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.freep.com Copyright (c) 2007, Detroit Free Press Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

Source: [url=http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/10/23/bloomberg/bxcars.php]International Herald Tribune[/url]
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