Back in 2008, General Motors lost its title of world’s biggest-selling automaker to Japanese giant Toyota, after a 77-year reign. But at least the American giant could continue to claim primacy in the huge and lucrative U.S. market.
Thirteen years later, Toyota has pulled that crown from GM’s head as well. GM's rule over its home turf is over - at least for now. For the first time since 1931, a company other than General Motors sat atop the vehicle sales chart in the United States at year’s end.
Toyota sold 2.332 million vehicles in the U.S. in 2021 compared to 2.218 million for General Motors. These figures were provided by the manufacturers. GM's U.S. sales were down 13 percent for 2021 - and 43 percent in the fourth quarter - while Toyota's were up 10 percent for the year.
In 2020, GM still had a healthy lead over Toyota with 2.55 million sales to Toyota's 2.11 million. Ford was third with 2.04 million.
The year 2021 was particularly difficult for General Motors because of the microchip shortage. Toyota was also hit, but just not as hard. That certainly had an effect on the results, and it also means that it's quite possible that GM will reclaim the title next year, especially since the company believes that U.S. economic growth could boost total light-vehicle sales from 15 million (in 2021) to about 16 million (in 2022). Between 2015 and 2019, the average was 17.3 million per year.
Toyota is not really bragging about its feat. While Senior Vice President Jack Hollis did say via a statement that the automaker is “grateful” for customer loyalty, he also added that "being No. 1 is never a focus or priority.” And in fact, the company had the same message back in early 2009 when it become global number one, adding that the real priority was to be number one for quality.
At GM, spokesman Jim Cain said the company had a very good year with its pickup truck and SUV sales. And as the supply of microchips improves, so will sales. In other words, Toyota is advised not to celebrate too much.
We'll know in early 2023 whether GM has regained its title in the U.S.