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Toyota recovers from quake, retakes auto sales crown from GM

Published: January 15, 2013 | 7:09 am
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DETROIT — Toyota has again dethroned General Motors as the world’s top-selling automaker.

The Japanese company sold 9.7 million cars and trucks worldwide in 2012, though it’s still counting. GM sold 9.29 million.
Both companies saw higher sales, but Toyota’s growth was far larger as it rolled out new versions of popular models including the Camry. GM executives promised sales growth this year, especially in the United States.
Both companies say publicly that they don’t care about who wins but concede that the crown is an important morale booster for employees.
GM was the top-selling carmaker for more than seven decades before losing the title to Toyota in 2008. GM retook the crown in 2011 when Toyota’s factories were slowed
by an earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The disaster left Toyota dealers with few cars to sell.
Toyota’s comeback from the earthquake, and flooding in Thailand, is only part of the story, says Jeff Schuster, the senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive, a Detroit-area industry forecasting firm. The company also has freshened up its stale midsize sedan, the Camry, the top-selling car in the United States.
GM’s global sales rose 2.9 percent last year, it announced Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Toyota sales rose 22 percent.
Schuster expects Toyota to keep the lead over GM this year as it launches a new Corolla compact.
Toyota builds 70 percent of the cars it sells in the U.S. in North America, including the Corolla.
GM is also contending with a stronger Volkswagen. It narrowly edged out the fast-growing German company for second place in 2012. VW sold a record 9.1 million vehicles.
Volkswagen, with big sellers including the Passat midsize sedan and Jetta compact, closed in on GM with an 11 percent sales increase across the globe. The United States, where VW brand sales rose 31 percent, led the way.
GM isn’t ignoring the global sales race, but it’s more focused on rolling out new products and driving profitable growth, said Mary Barra, the company’s global product development chief.
She expects the company to gain sales and market share in the U.S. this year because many new vehicles were rolled out late last year or are coming this year, such as new full-size pickups and the Cadillac ATS small luxury sports sedan.
GM plans to revamp 70 percent of its North American models by the end of next year, shifting its model lineup from the oldest in the industry to the newest.
“It all starts and ends with great products,” she said. “You get the products right and the other will come with time.”

General Motors’ Cadillac ATS and Chrysler’s Ram 1500 pickup won the 2013 North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year awards Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Both American automakers emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2009.

“We worked tirelessly with blood, sweat and tears to come through the hell we’ve been through,” said Fred Diaz, the president and chief executive of the the Ram brand, after the award was announced. “What a difference three years makes.”

Other truck and utility finalists were the Ford C-Max and Mazda CX-5. The other car finalists were the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord.

This is the 20th year of the awards, voted on by 49 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada. A vehicle must be all new or substantially changed to be eligible. “Utility” was added to the name this year because of the rising number of crossover vehicles.

Associated Press

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