Which Car Manufacturer Took Top Honors in 2012?

Toyota Motor Corporation’s (NYSE:TM) 2011 production woes are firmly in the past; the company regained its title of the world’s largest automobile manufacturer in 2012.

With record sales of 9.75 million vehicles last year, a 23 percent improvement over the previous year, Toyota took back the top spot from General Motors (NYSE:GM) and fended off Volkswagen’s (VLKAY.PK) competition. In comparison, the company’s American competitor sold 9.29 million vehicles in 2012, while its German rival sold 9.07 million.

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Higher demand for Toyota’s Prius hybrids, its sedans such as the Camry, and its SUVs like the Lexus RX 350 pushed the company to the number one spot, a position it held for three years beginning in 2008. Previously, GM had been the world’s largest manufacturer for more than seven decades.

The company was also helped by the weaker yen, which fell against the dollar in the last few months. This may be a positive indicator for the company’s quarterly profits as it makes Japanese exports more competitive abroad, said The Wall Street Journal.
Japan’s problems with China could temper the results. While the exact effect Tokyo-Beijing tensions will have on automobile sales in China is hard to predict, the company has already said it would not hit its 2012 sales objective in the country. According to the Journal, the conflict has hurt the company’s attempts to match the Chinese market share of its European and American rivals. Toyota had planned on selling 1 million cars in China last year, part of its goal of selling 10 million automobiles annually worldwide. But Toyota made significant gains both in the United States and at home. Earlier this month the company said U.S. sales increased 27 percent, while on Monday it announced that sales rose 35.2 percent in Japan.

All Japanese automakers saw record sales, suggesting that the country’s motor industry has recovered from the damage caused by the earthquake that shook Japan in 2011. Nissan (NSANF.PK) saw sales increase 5.8 percent to a record 4.94 million vehicles and for Honda (NYSE:HMC), Japan’s next largest car manufacturer, sales rose 19 percent to 3.82 million cars. All three manufacturers are scheduled to report fourth-quarter earnings next week.

However, because Toyota has caught up on back orders from 2011, it expects more modest growth this year, forecasting sales of 9.91 million vehicles for the 12-month period.

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