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Toyota catches GM in global sales

GM's 76-year title as world's largest automaker is now shared by Japanese rival as two automakers report essentially equal global sales.

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By Chris Isidore, CNNMoney.com senior writer

A GM joint-venture auto plant in China. Strong Chinese sales allowed it to hold onto a share of the global sales title in 2007, according to figures from GM and Toyota.
A GM joint-venture auto plant in China. Strong Chinese sales allowed it to hold onto a share of the global sales title in 2007, according to figures from GM and Toyota.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- General Motors Corp. is no longer the clear leader in global auto sales. It now officially shares a title it held by itself for 76 years with Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp.

A 2007 report released Wednesday shows that sales for GM (GM, Fortune 500) came in at 9,369,524 vehicles compared to 9.37 million earlier reported by Toyota (TM). The sales figures were so close that it was not immediately clear if Toyota had topped GM; rounding to the nearest thousand also brings the GM sales total to 9.37 million.

And 2007 could end up being as close to No. 1 that GM gets in a long while. Toyota has projected a 2008 global sales gain of 5 percent, which may be above what's possible at GM because of a cooling of the Chinese market and further sales declines forecast for U.S. sales.

Wednesday's report did represent something of a moral victory for GM, which had been widely expected to lose its sales lead to Toyota during the course of 2007.

GM saw its second-best sales year on record, trailing only its 1978 total of 9.55 million vehicles, as it was lifted by strong overseas sales. Its sales in China broke the 1 million mark for the first time, while sales jumped 19 percent in its sales region that includes Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. They also doubled in Russia, another market seeing rapid industrywide growth.

But a nearly 6 percent decline in sales in its home U.S. market apparently allowed Toyota to catch it, even though it wasn't a great year for its Japanese rival. Toyota suffering a 4 percent sales decline its own home market, and a surprisingly weak 3 percent gain in its U.S. sales, which has become the largest market worldwide for Toyota products. It was the thinnest U.S. gain for Toyota since 2002, which has seen double-digit annual growth here the last three years.

The two automakers had been in a close race for the global sales title throughout 2007, as Toyota was in the lead for the first and second quarter, while a strong third quarter lifted GM back into the lead in full-year numbers.

Toyota had already passed Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) for the title of No. 2 automaker in U.S. sales, as Ford's U.S. sales plunged 12 percent during the year. To top of page

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