Toyota Passes GM to Win No. 1 Global Sales Spot

Japan's Toyota Motor sold more cars and trucks last year than General Motors, stripping the Detroit automaker of the No. 1 global sales crown for the first time in 78 years.

General Motors world headquarters, Detroit, Michigan
General Motors world headquarters, Detroit, Michigan

GM said Wednesday it sold 8,355,947 cars and trucks around the world in 2008, falling about 616,000 vehicles short of the 8.972 million Toyota announced Tuesday.

GM, which posted an 11 percent drop in global sales for the year, blamed the decline on the steep drop in vehicle demand in its key North American and European markets.

North American sales dropped 21 percent for the year. GM Europe sales fell 6.5 percent, including a 21 percent plunge in the fourth quarter.

Toyota's sales fell 4 percent for the year, marking that automaker's first global sales decline in 10 years.

Toyota's move into the top sales spot wasn't a huge surprise. The automaker nearly topped GM in 2007, selling only about 3,000 less vehicles than the U.S. company did that year.

GM Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson told a group of industry insiders Tuesday night that it's not a big deal if GM is passed by Toyota Motor as the global sales leader.

"To me the most important thing to make GM successful," he told the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. Any time spent on worrying about being passed by Toyota is "time wasted," he said.

GM, which received a $13.4 billion lifeline from the federal government last month, has been closing plants and laying off workers to cut production as it faces the worst U.S. auto market in more than 25 years.

GM shares fell 22 cents, or 6.3 percent, to $3.28 in morning trading, while Toyota's U.S. shares rose 38 cents to $66.28.

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