Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Thursday, 24 April 2008 13:57 UK

Toyota outstrips GM in sales race

Brand new Toyota Prius hybrid cars are displayed at a California dealer
Toyota is motoring ahead with its fuel-efficient cars

Toyota has stolen a march on its bitter US rival General Motors (GM), the latest sales figures show.

Toyota sold 2.41 million vehicles during the first three months of the year, an increase of 2.7%.

GM meanwhile sold 2.25 million cars and small trucks over the period, 1% less than a year earlier, hit by falling demand in the US.

It is thought it is only a matter of time before Toyota becomes the world's top carmaker, beating GM.

General Motors has suffered from a downturn in its core US market as the economy grinds to a halt and consumers reject the firm's SUVs in favour of more fuel efficient cars.

The embattled firm, which has been active in cutting costs and launching environmentally-friendly initiatives to try to compete with its rivals, said it saw record sales in three out of four regions in the world.

But a 10% fall in US sales pulled down the total figure.

Brakes on US

"While the challenges of the US economy continue to put pressure on the automotive industry there, we saw nearly 20% in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and 6% growth in the Asia Pacific region," said John Middlebrook, GM vice president of global sales.

The firm, which owns the Saab, Vauxhall and Chevrolet brands, also warned that things were going to get worse before they got better because of the spiralling cost of petrol, but it expected a recovery in the second half of the year.

Toyota said its sales were lifted by Chinese demand for its fuel-efficient small cars, including the Corolla model, while its pickup trucks sold well in Thailand.

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