2009 Toyota CorollaEnlarge Photo
What seemed unthinkable decades ago when Toyota brought its frumpy, minuscule economy cars to the U.S. has now come to pass: worldwide sales dominance over the mighty GM. A few fuel crises, the labyrinthine maze of GM's countless divisions and middle management, and GM's reluctance to adapt to a rapidly changing automotive landscape are a few of the reasons for this seismic shift.
To be sure, Toyota is probably not popping any champagne corks, sharing sales struggles and a tough 2008 due to collapsing world markets, reduced consumer credit access, and wildly vacillating energy costs. Both manufacturers are facing serious revisions to their model lineups, curtailing production of heavy guzzlers (i.e. Toyota Tundra, Sequoia, and Lexus 570) in addition to aging, uncompetitive models for GM (Chevrolet Colorado, the entire Hummer line, and the Pontiac G5 to name but a few). But while both manufacturers are hurting, Toyota stands poised to make quicker changes due to its more lean and efficient operations, not to mention a much larger arsenal of modern and competitive small cars.
2008 Chevrolet Colorado Work TruckEnlarge Photo
By the numbers, Toyota sold about 622,000 units more than GM's 8.35 million cars and trucks worldwide in 2008; these figures represent a 4 percent sales decline for Toyota compared to '07, a 10.8 percent decline for GM. In 2007, GM worldwide sales had eclipsed Toyota's by a slim 3,000 units.
Predictably, GM downplayed the importance of the number one sales slot; GM president and chief operations officer Fritz Henderson said at a Detroit conference, "I focus on the sales and how to make us successful…honestly this is not a measure that I pay a lot of attention to.”
[source: Detroit Free Press]