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General Motors recaptures top spot for global auto sales

January 19, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch
  • Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, standing with three concept cars at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. GM reported global vehicle sales of more than 9 million last year, a tally that returned the U.S. automaker to the top seller in the automotive industry.
Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, standing with three concept… (Stan Honda / Getty Images )

Less than two years after emerging from bankruptcy, General Motors Co. has regained its spot as the world’s largest global seller of automobiles.

GM said its global sales rose 7.6% to 9 million vehicles in 2011.

Chevrolet, its flagship brand, sold nearly 4.8 million, a global sales record, and more than many entire auto companies, including Nissan, Honda and the Chrysler-Fiat concern.

Germany’s Volkswagen Group, which sells the VW and Audi brands in the U.S., was the second-largest seller of vehicles worldwide with 2011 global sales rising 14.3% to 8.2 million vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. won’t release its final numbers until next week, but looks to be third. It previously said it expects 2011 sales to be about 7.9 million vehicles, down about 6% from 2010.

Toyota was hurt this year by a global slowdown in its ability to make vehicles because of part shortages resulting from the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The automaker is likely to rebound this year, as its supply problems are largely in the past and it has a host of new models. Colin Couchman, an analyst for IHS Automotive, expects Toyota’s global sales to reach about 8.6 million this year, enough to regain second place.

He said VW won’t have any gain this year and could fall back slightly because of the economic turmoil caused by the Eurozone debt crisis.

“VW will be hard-pushed to eke out further gains for 2012,” he said, but it won’t be as vulnerable as Fiat, Renault and other European brands hurt by the lagging economy in the region, because VW’s core market is Germany, which is “not expected to fall back as much as some European markets.”

Volkswagen also voiced a cautious outlook.

 “A very challenging year lies ahead,” said Christian Klingler, the automaker’s group board member for sales.  “The risks on European markets in particular will multiply in 2012.”

South Korean corporate siblings Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. saw their combined sales rise 14.6% to 6.5 million vehicles in 2011. Its gains could be more modest this year because the brands are bumping up against manufacturing constraints, especially in the U.S. market where the South Koreans have rapidly increased market share in recent years.

Ford Motor Co. sold an estimated 5.3 million vehicles last year, a 6.9% gain, according to IHS.

Couchman said he believes GM’s sales, which include the cars sold by its joint venture partners in China, will continue to grow this year despite the problems in Europe that are expected to hurt sales of its Opel division.

GM’s two largest markets last year were China, where GM and its partners sold more than 2.5 million vehicles, a 8.3% increase from the prior year, and the U.S, where GM also sold 2.5 million, a 13% gain.

Some analysts look at the Renalut-Nissan alliance as a single automaker that would have placed fourth with global sales of 6.9 million vehicles last year, a 9.4% gain, according to IHS.  They work together developing cars through an alliance that includes cross-ownership of each other’s shares.  

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