Like a heavyweight champ who lost the title last year on a close decision, General Motors is battling to win the 2007 rematch.
Ironically, GM is getting some help in its slugfest against Toyota from Japanese shoppers. Or nonshoppers, to be more precise.
But the margin is whisker-thin.
GM's global sales totaled 6.7 million cars and trucks through the first nine months of 2007. That puts it about 90,000 units ahead of Toyota, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
In 2006, GM lost the top spot to Toyota. Toyota's sales totaled 8.8 million, compared with GM's 8.7 million.
GM's total was trimmed after an early 2007 review of its China sales. GM owns 34 percent of SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. Chevrolet-brand cars built by Wuling are counted as GM sales, but not Wuling-brand vehicles.
This year Toyota has fallen behind because it stumbled in the third quarter. GM sold 2.29 million vehicles globally in the quarter, up 3.4 percent from a year earlier. Toyota sold 2.25 million, down 3.8 percent. Toyota sales include those of its subsidiaries, Daihatsu and Hino.
A soft new-car market in Japan has hurt Toyota badly for months. In the first nine months, Toyota's global sales dropped by about 439,000 vehicles. Its sales in Japan alone fell by 454,475.
The implication: If Toyota wants to win, it must either persuade Japanese car shoppers to open their wallets — or export a lot more cars.