This has become nearly a non-event because of all the speculation that it would occur sometime this year, but Toyota Motor Corporation has finally surpassed General Motors as the world’s largest automaker in terms of sales for the first quarter of 2007. Toyota sold approximately 2.35 million units worldwide in the first quarter, while GM sold 2.26 million vehicles, so Toyota outsold GM by 90,000 units.
It remains to be seen whether Toyota will retain the title for the full year of 2007, but other than some weakness in the full-size Tundra pickup’s launch, they are not showing any signs of slowing down their sales pace this year in the US. Overall, Toyota’s US sales are up 11.2% so far in 2007, while GM’s are down 5.5% (however, GM’s US market share remains much larger than Toyota’s).
GM has had the title of “world’s largest automaker” for 76 years, but it has consistently shot itself in the foot over the past few decades with product missteps, quality blunders, and poor marketing. Meanwhile, Toyota has managed to avoid most of those same problems, at least in the same scale that GM ran into them. The title was earned by Toyota just as much as it was lost by GM.
Unfortunately for GM, the emerging markets where they are seeing swift sales growth with attractive, competitive products – China comes to mind, as does Russia) did not grow quickly enough to offset Toyota’s strength throughout the rest of the world.
There are some signs that Toyota may be slowing down the pace of its US expansion to let quality and engineering teams catch up with the pace of new model introductions. The company’s biggest asset is its reputation for bulletproof reliability, and any chinks in that armor will be addressed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Toyota has already delayed several new models to conduct further testing (such as the upcoming Corolla, which was originally supposed to already be on sale in the US) and is working on hiring 8,000 engineers globally to ensure that future models are as well-engineered as Toyotas of the past have been.
As for GM, now that it does not have to check its mirrors every month to see Toyota breathing down its neck, it can concentrate on building attractive, efficient, desirable vehicles instead of some of the excuses that have been “bean-countered” to the point of visible cheapness. Build a product that people want and can trust, and the customers will come – or at least stop leaving.