- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

NEW YORK | Toyota Motor Corp. sold more cars and trucks worldwide than any other automaker last year, seizing the crown General Motors Corp. held for 77 years.

But with its overall sales having fallen for the first time in 10 years, and the entire industry in a slump, there’s little for the Japanese company to celebrate.

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 said the shortfall was mainly caused by the economic downturns in the U.S. and Europe that slashed vehicle demand in those major markets, where Toyota doesn’t have as large of a presence.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM’s executive director of global market and industry analysis, downplayed the significance of the drop to No. 2, saying that the automaker is focused on profitability rather than sales volume.

“I don’t think being number one in vehicle sales means much at all to the American consumer,” Mr. DiGiovanni said in a conference call with reporters and analysts. “I think what matters most to the consumer is strong brands and strong products. And the key thing right now with what the industry is going through now is viability and profitability.”

Detroit-based GM, which has closed plants and laid off workers to cut production as it faces the worst U.S. auto market in more than 25 years, received a $13.4 billion lifeline from the federal government last month. But the bailout requires GM to submit a plan for long-term viability, and the loan may be called back if the government hasn’t determined by March 31 that the plan can succeed.

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