Toyota keeps No. 1 crown after outselling GM, VW in 2013

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TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp. kept its crown as the world's biggest automaker while falling just short of becoming the first carmaker to sell more than 10 million vehicles in a single year.

Toyota predicted it would breach the 10-million milestone this year, with sales of 10.32 million in calendar year 2014. That forecast represents a 4 percent increase over the 9.98 million cars it sold in calendar year 2013, the company said today.

Last year, Toyota's tally rose 2 percent to top the 9.71 million sold by General Motors. Volkswagen AG gave a rounded figure of 9.7 million units, but the German carmaker won't give detailed results until March 13. It presumably finished third in the 2013 sales race.

Toyota has resumed its sales march after being thrown off pace in 2011 by the Japan earthquake-tsunami disaster that torpedoed production for much of the year.

That year, GM edged Toyota to reclaim the top spot. It had held the title for almost 80 years before Toyota muscled ahead in 2008. Toyota led the world in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In 2012, the Japanese carmaker reclaimed the title from GM with sales of 9.75 million, beating GM's global sales by 451,000 units. Last year, GM narrowed the gap, to 266,000 units, thanks to 7 percent sales increases in Asia and North America.

Overall sales at GM rose 4 percent in 2013, while Toyota's advanced just 2 percent.

Toyota had predicted in August that sales would climb to 9.96 vehicles in 2013.

The tally encompasses global sales of the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands, as well as volume from its Daihatsu minicar and Hino truck-making subsidiaries.

Toyota's 10-million target actually puts it behind schedule, of sorts.

In 2007, it predicted it would achieve global sales of 10.4 million in 2009. Then came the global economic meltdown, the company's unintended acceleration recalls and the 2011 killer Japan quake. The 10-million target quickly faded into the future.

Meanwhile, the corporate culture was quickly changing. President Akio Toyoda took the helm in 2009, eschewing the volume targets of his successors as dangerous overreach.

He has since tried to refocus the company on product and manufacturing – under the theory that if Toyota delivers top-notch cars, the volume will follow automatically.

Last November, Toyoda said in an interview with Automotive News that his company was ready to go on the "offensive" but that volume targets are not part of the growth strategy.

"Toyota has come close to nearly 10 million units a year," said Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder. "But at today's Toyota, we are not pursuing volume.
Going on the offensive means making ever-better cars and changing the way in which we produce cars."

Toyota's new modular product development approach will power future expansion beyond the 10 million mark, he said. Dubbed Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA, it maximizes commonized designs and components to deliver what Toyota says will be better vehicles that are cheaper to engineer and manufacture.

The first TNGA vehicle is scheduled to arrive next year.

With global sales booming at the top three, some goals may need recalibrating.

Case in point: Volkswagen. In 2007, Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn set what then seemed like at high goal for the group -- 10 million sales by 2018. VW, like Toyota and GM, is now on the verge of reaching that target four years ahead of plan.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter


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