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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

GM Loses #1 Sales Spot to Toyota

NEW YORK ( -- General Motors lost the title of world's largest automaker to rival Toyota Motor in 2008, according to sales figures released Wednesday by the troubled U.S. automaker. It was the first time in nearly 80 years that GM did not sell the most cars in the world.

GM (GM, Fortune 500) reported that global sales plunged 10.8% for the year to 8.36 million vehicles. That allowed Toyota (TM) to move ahead of GM with sales of 8.97 million vehicles worldwide.

And GM said the outlook for sales in its core U.S. market is not likely to improve anytime soon.

GM sales analyst Mike DiGiovanni said during a conference call Wednesday morning that the seasonally-adjusted annual U.S. sales rate will fall below 10 million vehicles in January. That would be the first time below that benchmark since 1982.

Industrywide U.S. sales came in just over the 10 million sales pace in each month of the last quarter of 2008 despite a sharp plunge in demand that left sales down 35% from year ago levels.

DiGiovanni attributed the new low for U.S. industrywide sales to a sharp drop in fleet sales to businesses, such as rental car companies, rather than further weakness in consumer sales.

He added that the decision by GM, Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) to trim first quarter production due to weak sales is leading to the drop in fleet sales, and that retail sales should be at or slightly above sales seen in the fourth quarter.

DiGiovanni said the company is hopeful that economic stimulus plans being considered in the United States as well as in other nations should hopefully help sales later this year. But he cautioned that "2009 will be a very difficult year."

GM's sales in Europe fell 6.5% while sales in North America plunged 21%. The company did post full-year sales gains in its Asia-Pacific region, as well as in its Latin America-Africa-Middle East region.

The loss of the No. 1 automaker title that GM held for 77 years came as no surprise. Toyota finished 2007 only 3,101 vehicles behind GM, as its sales rose and GM's fell that year.

But Toyota's sales fell 4% in 2008 as all automakers were hurt by high oil prices earlier in the year and the global recession. Toyota has already said that, due to the sharp drop in global demand for autos, it will report its first operating loss as a public company during its current fiscal year. To top of page