TOKYO -- Ask a Toyota executive in private which Asian carmaker he is watching nervously in the rearview mirror, and he'll say Hyundai Motor Co.
Nissan Motor Co. won't come up. In market after market, category after category, the Toyota colossus is far ahead of Nissan. And there is little sign that Nissan is closing the competitive gap.
Toyota's global juggernaut is no doubt a key reason why Carlos Ghosn is so eager to ally his Renault-Nissan combine with General Motors. Ghosn needs GM to help him do battle with Nissan's ancient rival.
Consider the following:
In the United States, Toyota's market share for the first six months was 14.6 percent to Nissan's 6.1 percent. This year, Toyota has imported more cars to the United States than Nissan sold here. And Toyota assembles more cars in North America than it imports.
The dominance is even greater in Japan. Last year, Toyota's market share of 40.6 percent in Japan dwarfed Nissan's 15.1 percent.
Nissan began building cars in Europe well before Toyota and for many years was ahead there. Not now. Last year, Toyota's market share of 5.6 percent in Europe topped Nissan's 2.4 percent.
The combined share of alliance partners Nissan and Renault SA came to 12.9 percent. Good, right? Except that Toyota's sales rose while Renault-Nissan's fell. That trend has continued this year.
Toyota also leads Nissan in sales by a substantial margin in Southeast Asia and by a small one in China.
To be sure, Nissan Motor Co.'s 9.2 percent operating-profit margin in the fiscal year that ended last March 31 was fatter than Toyota Motor Corp.'s 8.9 percent. Nissan's advantage there has been even greater in some recent years.
Toyota's profit margins have suffered because of massive spending on new plants globally. But it still has an enormous war chest of cash. Nissan is proud to say that it now is essentially debt-free. That is a major reversal for the once-tottering automaker.
But Toyota is not likely to give up its lead anytime soon.
Toyota expects to spend 920 billion yen, or $7.94 billion at current exchange rates, on r&d in the current fiscal year, which began April 1. That represents 4.1 percent of revenues.
Nissan plans to spend 4.9 percent of revenues on r&d this fiscal year, but that will come to only $4.23 billion.
You may e-mail James B. Treece at [email protected]