GM loses world auto sales crown to Toyota

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PostThu Jan 22, 2009 1:02 pm » by Becks

DETROIT: For the first time since the Great Depression, General Motors cannot call itself the world's largest automaker. Its sales fell behind Toyota's in 2008, the year that GM celebrated its 100th anniversary and narrowly avoided a bankruptcy filing at a time of economic downturn.

GM, based in Detroit, said Wednesday that it sold 8.35 million vehicles in 2008, about 620,000 fewer than the 8.97 million sold by Toyota Motor. GM sales were down 11 percent from 2007, while Toyota's declined 4 percent.

Toyota, which was founded in Japan two years after GM became the world's dominant carmaker, had been closing in on GM for years.

Its sales surged around the world while GM's global expansion was tempered by decades of falling market share in the United States. The two had traded places from one quarter to the next in recent years, and GM was widely expected to slip into second place in 2007, but surpassed Toyota by 3,000 vehicles.

Both companies struggled in 2008 as vehicle demand slumped, but GM was hurt more, to the point that executives said the company would run out of money without billions of dollars in loans from the U.S. government. GM's global sales fell 26 percent in the fourth quarter, and the company received a $4 billion loan from the government in December.

"The challenges in the global financial markets, including credit tightening, the drop in commodity prices, and economic uncertainty continue to negatively impact overall demand for new vehicles," Jonathan Browning, GM vice president for global sales, service and marketing, said Wednesday in a statement released by the company. "For the total global industry, we saw about 3.5 million fewer vehicles sold in 2008 than the previous year."

Last year, GM made 64 percent of its sales outside the United States, up from 59 percent the previous year. The company still outsells Toyota in the United States by a wide margin - nearly 800,000 vehicles in 2008, or 33 percent more than Toyota - but the Japanese company is a bigger player in the rest of the world.

GM, which has lost money every year since 2004, has said it is more concerned with restructuring to become a smaller but profitable company than remaining the world leader in sales.

Nissan still open to Chrysler

Nissan Motor, the third-largest Japanese carmaker after Toyota and Honda, said Wednesday that it was open to further cooperation with Chrysler even after Fiat announced plans to take a 35 percent stake in Chrysler, Bloomberg News reported from Paris.

"We've remained in discussion with them and there are areas where we're interested," said Simon Sproule, a Nissan spokesman in Tokyo. "We need to see whether both sides want to move ahead with any of the proposals. We continue to be open to talking with them regardless of the ownership situation."

The owner of Chrysler, Cerberus Capital Management, said Tuesday that it would hand Fiat, based in Turin, a 35 percent stake in return for access to the company's small-car designs and sales network. Nissan and Chrysler, the U.S. carmaker, which last year teamed up to produce three new car and truck models, were also said to have considered a deeper alliance.

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