How a Chinese minivan put GM in backseat
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- General Motors may have lost its long-held
title of world's largest automaker to Toyota Motor earlier than
Toyota (Charts) edged ahead of GM (Charts, Fortune 500) in total sales
in 2006, according to a recent ranking by a leading industry journal,
which drops some of the Chinese sales previously credited to GM.
Detroit-based weekly Automotive News, which releases a sales total in
late June of every year, showed GM with 8,679,860 vehicles sold in 2006,
up 3.6 percent from 2005, but 128,000 behind the Toyota's sales estimate
of 8,808,000. Toyota's global sales gained 8.5 percent from a year
earlier in the publication's latest rankings.
"A little-known Chinese microvan played a role in Toyota's victory,"
said the magazine in a report on its Web site.
In its final tally for 2006, GM included the seven-seat microvan sold
under the Wuling brand in China, which saw sales of 420,140 vehicles.
But GM owns less than 50 percent of the three-way joint venture with
China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. and Liuzhou Wuling
Automobile, so Automotive News credits those sales to Shanghai
Automotive, which it said owns a 51 percent stake in the joint venture.
That leaves GM's global sales just a hair behind Toyota.
A GM spokesman said the company had no comment on the Automotive News
ranking, other than to confirm the company counted the sales that were
excluded by the publication. A Toyota spokesman was not available for
comment early Tuesday.
GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner has said that hanging onto the No. 1
sales ranking isn't a priority, but that it's also a distinction GM
won't give up without a fight.
No matter which company held the title for No. 1 automaker in 2006, it's
clear that Toyota will surpass GM this year, due to stronger global
sales growth than the U.S. automaker, which had held the top spot since
Toyota already has taken the lead in the global sales in the first
quarter of this year.
Toyota had sales of 2.35 million cars and light trucks in the first
three months of the year, compared to 2.25 million at GM.
The sales forecasts from the two companies suggest that Toyota will not
give up that lead the rest of the year. And industry analysts say that
GM is not likely to overtake the faster sales growth at Toyota in future
years without the acquisition of another major automaker by the troubled
GM at No. 2: Not such a bad thing
Still, GM is forecasting improved company sales in 2007, which will
build on record sales it saw in 2006. Growth in Chinese sales is helping
to overcome declining U.S. sales. GM has cut back on less profitable
fleet sales to business customers, such as rental car companies, in its
home market as it tries to end two years of losses on its North American
At the time the first-quarter sales showed Toyota moving into the lead,
GM spokesman John McDonald said the ranking was less important than GM
being a successful and profitable automaker.
"There's a focus on competition with all the global manufacturers, not
just Toyota," he said at that time. "There's room for more than one
successful automaker in the world. We're not going to let that rivalry
distract us from what we need to do globally."
Toyota's big pickup takes aim at Big Three
Strong sales growth allowed Toyota to also pass DaimlerChrysler (Charts)
in U.S. sales for the first time in 2006. The German-American automaker
is in the process of selling its North American Chrysler Group unit, a
deal announced earlier this year. But even the combined Chrysler Group
and Mercedes Benz sales lost their long-held No. 3 in U.S. sales in 2006.
And Toyota could pass Ford Motor (Charts, Fortune 500) for the No. 2
position in U.S. sales this year, as Ford's U.S. sales have fallen 13.4
percent through the first four months of 2007, as it to cut fleet sales
in an effort to reverse losses.
Meanwhile Toyota's U.S. sales surged 6.7 percent to take a slight lead,
816,312 to 811,377 for Ford through April of this year. Top of page
GM at No. 2: Not such a bad thing