Toyota surpassed GM in car sales in the first quarter of 2007, even as both companies posted record sales numbers. That's the first time that's happened, and it gives Toyota a legitimate claim on the title "World's Largest Automaker." GM has held that title for more than 75 years.
Toyota said it sold 2,348,000 vehicles, which is about 88,000 more than GM. If Toyota maintains its lead throughout the rest of the year, GM will lose its place as the world's No. 1 automaker, a position it has held for more than 75 years.
"Well obviously, it wasn't the news we wanted to hear," said John McDonald, a GM spokesman. "But both GM and Toyota are growing around the world, and GM also had a record first-quarter sales performance in the global market."
McDonald said GM has been doing well lately in emerging markets, especially in China, where it now sells a million cars a year.
It's still not clear whether Toyota will end the year with an edge in total sales, but many analysts expect that it will.
Auto analyst Mary Ann Keller said Toyota is growing faster than GM in much of the world, especially in the highly profitable North American market. Keller said Toyota has made so much money that it's been able to open new plants all over the world, from San Antonio to St. Petersburg, Russia.
Toyota's rapid expansion has its downside. Keller said there is evidence that Toyota may be trying to grow too fast and that its vaunted reputation for high quality may not be as strong as it once was.
"Their quality in the United States is not what it used to be," Keller said. "They have suffered enormous numbers of recalls, their warranties costs are up."
But for now, Keller said, there's a good chance that Toyota will end the year as the world's biggest automaker.
For its part, Toyota tried to downplay the milestone today — perhaps because of political sensitivities in the United States. The company said it doesn't pay attention to rankings and is only interested in improving the quality of its vehicles.