Toyota Tops GM in First-Quarter Global Auto Sales

Toyota became the world's top auto seller in the first three months of the year, passing rival General Motors for the first time, the Japanese automaker said Tuesday.

Toyota sold 2.348 million vehicles worldwide in the January-March quarter, company spokesman Satoshi Yamaguchi said, surpassing the 2.26 million vehicles that GM said it sold during the same period.

The results mark the first time Toyota has beat GM in global sales on a quarterly basis, he said.

While the figures represent only quarterly sales results, they foreshadow a tough challenge for GM as it fights to hold onto its title as world's top automaker a claim usually staked on annual production figures.

In 2006, Toyota's global output surged 10% to 9.018 million vehicles, while GM produced 9.18 million vehicles worldwide a gap of about 162,000.

Toyota has been gaining steadily on GM in recent years, and analysts have been saying it is only a matter of time before it eclipses its Detroit-based rival, which has seen its market share shrink in the United States even as it leads sales in China.

While GM has struggled to shore up earnings with job cuts and plant closures, Toyota has expanded rapidly, thanks partly to the popularity of its fuel-efficient cars, including the Camry, Corolla and Prius gas-electric hybrid.

GM, meanwhile, cut production last year as high fuel prices drove people away from its trucks and sport utility vehicles.

In the American market, Toyota's sales rose 12.9% last year, catapulting it past DaimlerChrysleras the No. 3 seller of autos in the U.S. Toyota's share of the U.S. market climbed to 16% in March, behind GM's 22%, and Ford's 17%.

A copy of Toyota's "global master plan" leaked to the news media late last year calls for grabbing 15% of the world car market by 2010 in the company's quest to unseat GM as the top producer.

In terms of production in the first quarter, Toyota made 2.367 million vehicles worldwide, up 2.6% from the same period last year. GM had expected to produce 2.335 million.

Toyota's shares fell 0.54% Tuesday to close at 7,370 yen ($62.46) on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.