Jul 24, 2008

Business - Toyota set to make history

Toyota Motor sold nearly 300,000 more vehicles than General Motors in the first half of 2008 and appeared to be on its way to ending GM's 77-year rule as the world's largest automaker.
Toyota said Wednesday that it sold 2.41 million vehicles worldwide in the second quarter, 2 percent more than a year ago. GM said its sales for the quarter fell 5 percent, to 2.28 million.
Both companies had record sales in emerging markets like China, but falling demand in the United States took a larger toll on GM, whose lineup includes more of the big trucks that consumers are shunning in response to high gasoline prices.
"Over all, the global market remains strong," GM's chief sales analyst, Michael DiGiovanni, said in a conference call with reporters and analysts, but in the United States, "the short-term outlook remains challenging."
In the first quarter, Toyota sold 2.4 million vehicles, to GM's 2.26 million. Toyota was widely expected to displace GM at the pinnacle of the auto industry last year, but fell about 3,000 vehicles short.
GM, which is commemorating its 100th anniversary, is unlikely to hold off Toyota this year, given the difficulties it faces in North America and the production cuts it is making. Its sales rose 10 percent overseas last quarter but fell 19.7 percent in the United States and Canada.
Total industry sales fell 10.1 percent from January to June, causing all three Detroit automakers to significantly reduce truck production and announce more plant closures. On Wednesday, Chrysler told employees that it would eliminate 1,000 of its 18,500 salaried jobs worldwide by Sept. 30, largely because it expected a continued downturn in domestic car sales, said David Elshoff, a Chrysler spokesman.
The cuts will be made through buyouts and early retirement offers, as well as involuntary layoffs if necessary. When they are completed, Chrysler will have reduced its salaried employment by 4,000 since early 2007.
"It's intended to build a company that's right-sized to meet the challenges of this year and next," Elshoff said. "This should help us be well-positioned going forward, and no additional cuts are expected."
Toyota's sales have fallen in the United States this year as well, but it has not suffered as much as the Detroit companies. The company now expects to sell slightly more than 9.5 million vehicles globally this year, fewer than the 9.85 million it originally projected. The record for sales in a single year is 9.55 million, set by GM in 1978.
Toyota recently said it would halt production of its largest vehicles for several months and would build its popular hybrid sedan, the Prius, in the United States for the first time, starting in 2010, to capitalize on surging demand for fuel-efficient vehicles.
GM is also working to increase production of hot-selling small cars, but those increases are smaller than the cuts it is making in truck output.
DiGiovanni said that July was shaping up as another gloomy month for GM and most of its competitors but that there was reason for optimism, as gas prices had stopped rising in recent weeks.
"That's the first sign of stability we've seen in a long time," he said, "and that's a positive development."

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