Toyota retains lead over General Motors in the race for global sales
AFTER years of being haunted by global recalls, natural disasters, a soaring yen and a Chinese boycott against Japanese products, Toyota got what it has long wished for: a disaster-free year.
It remained the top-selling car maker in 2013 for a second year in a row, beating US rival General Motors (GM) by some 270,000 vehicles and German giant Volkswagen (VW).
The weak yen helped underpin overseas sales for Toyota, which expects annual group sales to top an unprecedented 10 million vehicles for the first time this year.
Before 2008, GM had held the title as the world's leader in car sales for more than 70 years.
It remains the top seller in the US, but VW is closing the gap in world sales by becoming the number one car in China, spurred by the spending habits of young professionals who are now earning more than their parents.
Worldwide vehicle sales at Toyota, including deliveries from subsidiaries Daihatsu and Hino, rose by 2.4pc to 9.98 million units last year, the car maker said this week.
That compared with the 9.71 million units sold by GM, and over 9.7 million units at Germany's VW, which has pledged to surpass its rivals to become the world's largest car maker by 2018.
Toyota's chief executive Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, retained his number one spot and revived the company's fortunes.
He took over at the height of the global financial crisis in June 2009, after Toyota posted its first annual loss in almost six decades.
While the firm had achieved top sales from 2008 through to 2010, it had been knocked off its perch for the following two years following a litany of disasters.
The tsunami and earthquake in 2011 caused widespread devastation in the north east of Japan and affected car suppliers and production, with flooding in Thailand wiping out parts supplies.
The car firm also suffered severe reputational issues, with more than 14 million vehicles recalled in the US since 2009 due to several faults, including sticky pedals and brake problems.
As recently as last October it recalled more than 800,000 vehicles over a problem causing air bags to inadvertently deploy.
At GM, Mary Barra is due to take over the driving seat to become the first female chief executive in the industry.
The company has finally emerged from near-collapse with the guidance of Dan Akerson, who brought it from post bailout and bankruptcy to profitability and independence.
In December, the US Treasury Department sold its final shares of GM, signaling the end of what was dubbed by some critics as "Government Motors".
The US administration had stepped in with emergency funding in 2008 to bailout the country's biggest car maker. It avoided liquidation.
Its re-organisation in a 2009 bankruptcy also gave a new life to the company.
The Government sale of its shares sent the message worldwide that its domestic auto industry was on the rebound from the deepest downturn since the Great Depression.
GM also plans to bring out at least 14 new or updated vehicles in the US this year.
Meanwhile, VW's global sales, which include the heavy truck brands of MAN and Scania, are also on the rise, up almost 5pc to more than 9.7 million units.
In the US, VW group sales rose 2.6pc to 611,700 vehicles, while group sales in China, the company's largest market, jumped 16.2pc to 3.27 million units. (Additional reporting Bloomberg and Reuters).