Ever humbly, Toyota confirms sales figures to surpass Ford as world's No. 2 automaker
Monday, January 26th 2004, 12:00 am
News On 6
TOKYO (AP) _ For months, sales data had been predicting a milestone for Toyota Motor Corp. On Monday, it was official: The Japanese automaker surpassed Ford Motor Co. of the United States in global sales for 2003 as the world's No. 2 automaker.
But Toyota officials here made a point of shrugging off the achievement.
``We have so much more to learn,'' Toyota President Fujio Cho told reporters recently when asked about the expected ranking change. ``If this were a marathon, we're so far behind we still can't see Ford's back.''
Toyota confirmed the tally it gave last Friday for worldwide sales for 2003 of 6.78 million vehicles, up 9.9 percent from 6.17 million the previous year. Ford's 2003 sales have slipped to 6.72 million vehicles, down 3.6 percent from 6.97 million the year before.
The world's largest automaker remains General Motors Corp. of the United States, which sold 8.6 million vehicles in 2003.
The Ford tally includes Lincoln, Mercury, Aston Martin, Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover, but it does not include sales for Mazda Motor Corp., a Japanese automaker 33 percent owned by the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker. Adding Mazda global sales of 1.04 million vehicles a year, also disclosed Monday, would put Ford ahead of Toyota.
``If we add Mazda, we are absolutely nowhere close to Ford,'' Toyota spokesman Shinya Matsumoto said Monday. ``We would like to explain the numbers can't be compared directly.''
The denials may be more than a reflection of Japan's tradition of self-effacement.
There are fears in auto industry circles here about a possible U.S. backlash evocative of ``Japan-bashing'' in the 1980s that erupted over Japan's ballooning trade surplus with American especially in cars and auto parts.
Publicly, Toyota officials deny having concerns of a backlash. Toyota makes most of the cars it sells in the United States in that country, and it has grown into a good American corporate citizen, they say.
``The trade war is long over,'' Yoshio Ishizaka, Executive Vice President in charge of overseas operations, said recently. ``We are not competing against any competitor, and we are not thinking about overtaking anybody.''
Based in Toyota city, central Japan, Toyota now has plants not only in the United States and Japan but also in China, France, Mexico and other countries. Once making its fame on fuel-efficient compacts, it now has strong offerings in the most lucrative U.S. auto segment, trucks.
Having built a reputation in the United States for its Lexus luxury brand, Toyota plans to start selling the brand in Japan for the first time in 2005.
Toyota cars consistently rank high in consumer satisfaction surveys, wiping out the stereotype of shoddiness that once characterized ``Made in Japan.''
More recently, it has taken a lead in the production of an ecological technology called hybrid vehicles, which run on both an electric motor and a gas engine to deliver superior mileage.
Tsuyoshi Mochimaru, auto analyst at Daiwa Institute of Research in Tokyo, said Toyota kept up stable growth while Ford stumbled the last couple of years.
``So Toyota overtook Ford before it realized it happened,'' he said, while adding that Ford could regain its No. 2 spot. ``Toyota just did its job and came up with cars that met the demands of the market.''