General Motors and Ford Motor Co. still sell more cars and trucks than any other auto companies in the world, but their rivals are gaining on them - and in some cases, gaining fast.
In 2002, the sharpest increases in vehicle sales came at Asian makers, according to the Automotive News Data Center's ranking of the world's largest automotive manufacturers based on unit sales.
Manufacturers in the small but growing markets of China and India grew fastest in percentage terms. Korean makers also turned in hefty gains, while most Japanese makers were higher. Global sales last year edged up 0.7 percent over 2001 to 57.6 million units.
Of the world's four largest automakers, Toyota Motor Corp. was alone in selling more cars and trucks last year. Its sales rose 4.1 percent to 6.17 million units. GM, Ford and the fourth largest maker, Volkswagen AG, were lower.
GM sales eased 1 percent to 8.50 million, but the company still comfortably held the No. 1 spot. No. 2 Ford's sales slipped 1.3 percent to 6.82 million.
With the gain last year, Toyota's lead over No. 4 VW widened to 1,178,673 units last year from 847,481 in 2001, while its gap with Ford narrowed to 651,891 units from 978,980.
DaimlerChrysler, the No. 5-ranked automaker by sales, edged up 0.9 percent to 4.54 million units in 2002.
The gap between Toyota and the American makers has been narrowing for years.
Consider the changes since 1995.
GM's sales that year were slightly higher than last year's, at 8.567 million units. Ford's sales of 6.6 million in 1995 were almost the same as last year's.
But Toyota's sales have surged 35 percent since 1995, from 4.6 million. Part of that increase, though, reflects volume gained when Toyota increased its stakes in Hino Motors Ltd. and Daihatsu Motor Co.