GM regains crown as top-selling automaker, Toyota No.3

Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:18am EST
 
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By Deepa Seetharaman and Chang-Ran Kim

DETROIT/TOKYO (Reuters) - General Motors Co (GM.N: Quote) regained its title as the world's top-selling automaker from Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T: Quote) in 2011, but the U.S. company faces a challenge to stay on top this year as Toyota rebuilds its disaster-struck business.

GM, bouncing back from bankruptcy less than three years ago, said on Thursday it sold 9.026 million vehicles globally last year, up 7.6 percent from 2010, with its Chevrolet brand setting a sales record of 4.76 million vehicles.

The Detroit-based automaker's return to the top slot comes after its 2009 taxpayer-funded bankruptcy restructuring allowed it to cut its spiraling legacy costs.

It also comes as Toyota's sales fell an estimated 6 percent in 2011 to 7.9 million vehicles, hit by severe production cuts following an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan and deadly floods in Thailand.

The Japanese automaker is ramping up production to rebuild depleted inventory and will add output capacity in emerging markets such as Brazil and China this year. But analysts said it also faced stiffer competition as rivals step up their game.

"Toyota's biggest problem is that even without the natural disasters, its sales weren't exactly growing," JP Morgan auto analyst Kohei Takahashi said.

"The ranking is not that important, but they need a convincing strategy to boost their sales," he said, adding that Toyota was behind rivals such as Nissan Motor Co (7201.T: Quote) in rolling out small cars for emerging markets.

Toyota has lagged the sharper sales growth at rivals such as Nissan and Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS: Quote) because of a relatively slow push into emerging markets as it scrambled to meet runaway demand in mature markets in the past decade.   Continued...