Toyota Motor Corp. last year took a big bite out of General Motors' lead as the world's No. 1 automaker.
Toyota gained by nearly 600,000 vehicles on GM to close to within 1.38 million sales in 2004, annual ranking of the world's automakers by sales and production.
That puts Toyota on a path to catch GM within two or three years if the trend holds.
Nearly a third of last year's gain came from the United States, where Toyota increased sales by 193,735 units while GM declined by 59,323 units.
Toyota, which passed Ford Motor Co. last year, has been taking ever-increasing chunks out of GM's lead. The Japanese juggernaut drew 413,605 units closer to GM in 2003 after narrowing the gap by 254,357 units in 2002. Last year, it cut 586,999 units from GM's 2003 sales lead.
"Right now, there is not enough evidence to say it is inevitable that Toyota will pass GM," says analyst Jeff Brodoski of J.D. Power and Associates in Troy, Mich. " The bigger factor that Toyota hangs its hat on is profitability. Even though they trail GM in sales, nobody comes close to Toyota in profits."
GM sold 8,089,551 units in 2004 -- a slim 50,000 over 2003.
That's equal to a 13.2 percent share of the global vehicle market (including manufacturers selling at least 10,000 units annually) and down from a share of 13.8 percent in 2003. Toyota's worldwide sales notched up 10.5 percent to 6,707,600 -- a global share of 10.9 percent.
In 2002, GM held 14.7 percent of the world vehicle market, compared with Toyota's 10.6 percent.
Michael Robinet, vice president for global forecast services at CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills, Mich., expects Toyota will hold a 14.0 percent share of the world's auto sales by 2010.
"Toyota is growing everywhere," Robinet says. "It's not just an onslaught in North America or Europe."
The key is that Toyota is investing heavily to simultaneously attack markets around the world, he says.
"Toyota is an expansion automaker, trying to grow in its home market as well as other markets," Robinet says. "GM is really under assault in its home markets of the United States and Europe. It's trying to escape to other markets where gaining share could be easier, but it is encountering Toyota and others there as well."
Paul Ballew, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, says the automaker concedes nothing.
"We have no plans to give up the No. 1 title," Ballew says. "Toyota is a formidable competitor, and there are several other formidable competitors out there. But if we focus on growth and improving the business, we will be successful. Maybe next year we'll break the 9 million mark."
Ford fell to third last year with a global share of 10.5 percent -- down sharply from 11.2 percent in 2003. It was the only company in the world's top 10 to see sales drop.
Volkswagen AG and DaimlerChrysler AG rank fourth and fifth in the 2004 rankings.
There are other ways to view the race, though. Ford's total does not include Mazda Motor Corp., which Ford controls via a 34 percent ownership stake. Add Mazda to Ford's totals and Toyota drops back to No. 3.
Throw in GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co. Ltd. of Incheon, South Korea, and another 900,084 units is added to the GM column in 2004. Automotive News' tally of GM's sales does not include GM Daewoo because GM doesn't own at least 50 percent of the automaker.
Yet GM Daewoo is accelerating faster than any carmaker. Sales increased 55.2 percent in 2004. If GM pushes its stake above 50 percent, GM Daewoo's volume will be consolidated in GM's accounts -- at the very least delaying Toyota's ascension.
Ballew says GM Daewoo should be included in GM's total because most of its vehicles are sold with a Chevrolet badge. GM also has management control of the company.
In fact, if automakers are ranked as groups, based on ownership and operational control, the top five would be: GM, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Renault SA/Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and VW AG.
Even without majority ownership, "these groups are working in concert with one another," says CSM's Robinet. "That's the way the supply base sees it when they have to bid on global platforms."
Add GM's various other alliances, including minority stakes in Fuji Heavy Industries, Suzuki and Isuzu, and the extended GM family could be clear of Toyota for many years.
Among the companies charging up the ladder are Hyundai Automotive Group (which may pass Honda this year); BMW AG (closing in on collapsing Mitsubishi Motors Corp.); and Nissan, which is ripe to overtake PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA.
Hyundai Automotive, which includes Kia, has passed a threshold -- 5 percent of the world market. The South Korean company reached 5.2 percent in 2004. Hyundai Automotive together with GM Daewoo make up one of the world's fastest growing national lineups.
J.D. Power's Brodoski says the Korean automakers are moving aggressively to increase their market share.
With a portfolio of new, higher-quality products and an expanding manufacturing base, the Koreans""are like the sleeper threat," he says.
Global industrywide sales of all vehicles last year, including heavy trucks and buses, totaled 61,387,595. That was up 5.5 percent from 58,184,781 in 2003 and compares with 58,324,475 in 2002. The figures include only vehicle manufacturers with sales of at least 10,000 units annually.
Japanese companies accounted for 30.9 percent of the total -- a gain of 0.8 percentage points of share from 2003.
European automakers' share last year held steady at 33.5 percent, while North American automakers lost 1.4 percentage points of share from 2003 to hold 24.0 percent of sales in 2004.
Chinese automakers increased their share of global sales by 0.1 percentage points to 3.8 percent. But sales growth in China slowed to 7.4 percent in 2004 from a 36.5 percent gain in 2003 as the government put the brakes on sales via restrictions on credit.
Indian automakers did better last year, gaining 0.2 percentage points in 2004 to hold 1.0 percent of the market, with sales topping 600,000. In fact, two of the three fastest growing automakers in the world last year were Indian -- Tata Motors Ltd. and Mahindra & Mahindra.
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