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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2007, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Toyota 'world's largest carmaker'
Toyota Highlander
Toyota is catching up with big US carmakers on their home turf
Japan's Toyota has overtaken US rival General Motors to become the world's biggest carmaker, a spokesman for the company has said.

According to company figures, Toyota sold 2.348 million vehicles in the first three months of 2007.

General Motors (GM) is estimated to have sold 2.26 million cars and small trucks during the same period.

Japanese carmakers have been boosting foreign sales and making gains in the US, the world's largest car market.

Heat

Toyota has enjoyed strong sales on the back of the success of its pioneering petrol/electricity hybrid, the Prius, and new models of popular car ranges like the Camry Sedan and Corolla.

Meanwhile, its Detroit rival GM has struggled to compete as high fuel prices have driven people away from its trucks and sports utility vehicles.

Our goal has never been to sell the most cars in the world
Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco

The American car giant has been forced to cut thousands of jobs and close factories to turn around its business.

The first-quarter results steps up the heat on GM - which sells vehicles under a range of brands, including Saab, Buick and Cadillac - to maintain its long-held status as the world's number one carmaker by global sales.

Battle

One lucrative avenue GM is pursuing is the coveted Chinese market, where it is already the market leader with sales of 876,000 cars in 2006 through its joint ventures.

The firm is investing about $1bn (£500m) annually in order to reach its target of selling an additional 500,000 cars a year in China.

GM's new Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid vehicle
GM has been forced to go green as consumers start to snub SUVs

The battle between Toyota and GM for the top spot will be keenly monitored until annual production figures reveal any transformation in the pecking order.

But Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said overtaking GM was not Toyota's first priority.

"Our goal has never been to sell the most cars in the world," Nolasco said. "We simply want to be the best in quality. After that, sales will take care of themselves."

One lingering concern for the Japanese carmaker loved by the America consumer comes from lawmakers in big manufacturing states in the US.

They assert US carmakers are being unfairly penalised by the Japanese government keeping the yen artificially low.


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