Toyota took a long time to rise to the top of the global sales rankings, but the glory may be short-lived. Less than two years after declaring bankruptcy, General Motors is poised to reclaim the lead.
And some analysts say it may not just be a temporary blip caused by the Japanese earthquake and the lingering bad smell of Toyota's recall and quality problems. GM's improved products and superior position in China could keep it on top for awhile, they say.
GM will invest at least $5 billion in China, and its goal is to double sales there to 5 million vehicles by 2015. Toyota has been slower to invest in the world's fastest-growing car market. And GM's model lineup is making headway against Toyota in the United States.
Add it up and GM may retake the sales crown it lost in 2008.
"GM is crawling back in the mature markets and growing quickly in emerging markets," forecaster Jeff Schuster of J.D. Power and Associates told Bloomberg. "It's a challenging road ahead for Toyota. They face some real issues in the U.S."
J.D. Power had predicted another tight race in 2011. Last year Toyota's sales of 8.42 million vehicles exceeded GM's by 30,000.
Toyota has lost production of about 500,000 vehicles since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Full output won't return before November.
"Given the turmoil Toyota is in right now, GM is poised to take the No. 1 spot," IHS Automotive forecaster Henner Lehne told Bloomberg. "In the near term, we have GM overtaking Toyota. It will be a battle over the next several years."