Toyota dethrones GM to become America’s top-selling automaker in 2021

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Toyota vehicles are offered for sale at a dealership on November 04, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

DETROIT – Toyota Motor has dethroned General Motors as America’s top-selling automaker in 2021, marking the first time since 1931 that the Detroit automaker wasn’t the best-selling car company in the U.S.

It also marks the first time a non-domestic automaker has taken the top spot in America.

Toyota was able to manage supply chain issues better, allowing it to take away GM’s throne for the first time in 90 years. An ongoing shortage of semiconductor chips caused sporadic shutdowns of plants and led to record-low vehicle inventories in 2021.  

GM said Tuesday it sold 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S. in 2021, down by 12.9% compared to the year earlier. Toyota, by comparison, said it sold 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, up by 10.4% compared to 2020. The difference in sales between the two automakers was 114,034 vehicles.

Jack Hollis, Toyota North America’s senior vice president of automotive operations, downplayed the company’s No. 1 ranking.

“Yes, we did surpass General Motors in sales,” he told reporters during a call Tuesday. “But to be clear, that is not our goal, nor do we see it as sustainable.”

GM has been the largest seller of vehicles in the U.S. since 1931, when it surpassed Ford Motor, according to data from industry publication Automotive News.

GM’s stock achieved a new 52-week high Tuesday of $65.98 a share before closing at $65.74 a share, up by 7.5%. The jump followed the automaker saying the chip shortage was easing and it increased production at the end of the year.

GM said its fourth-quarter production and wholesale deliveries were up significantly from the third quarter as supplies increased. Dealer inventory, including in-transit vehicles on their way to dealers, was 199,662 at the end of the fourth quarter, up from 128,757 cars and trucks at the end of the third quarter.

Toyota was able to achieve the milestone by increasing sales of both cars and trucks last year, despite a 25% decline in sales of its full-size Tundra pickup. Sales of its smaller Tacoma pickup increased by 5.7% to 252,520 units.

It was a rough sales year for GM due to the semiconductor chip shortage. Sales of its highly important Chevrolet Silverado pickup – its best-selling vehicle – were down by 10.8% to less than 530,000 units.

Aside from Ford, which sold 1.7 million vehicles through November, most major automakers are scheduled to report their fourth-quarter and 2021 total domestic sales on Tuesday. New light-duty vehicle sales are expected to be about 15 million in 2021.

Industry analysts and forecasters are mixed on their sales forecasts for 2022 due to the volatility in the market. They range from about 15.2 million vehicles to around 16 million vehicles or better.

GM North America President Steve Carlisle said the automaker plans to increase its sales and marker share next year, potentially regaining its sales title.

“In 2022, we plan to take advantage of the strong economy and anticipated improved semiconductor supplies to grow our sales and share,” he said in a release Tuesday.

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