Toyota takes global sales lead over GM

Visitors view the Toyota Prius PHV (plug-in hybrid

Visitors view the Toyota Prius PHV (plug-in hybrid vehicle), left, and the prototype of the new all-electric Toyota RAV4 at the sixth annual Alternative Transportation Expo and Conference (AltCar Expo) in Santa Monica, Calif. (Sept. 30, 2011) (Credit: Getty Images)

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TOKYO -- Toyota bounced back from safety recalls and natural disasters, selling 4.97 million vehicles globally in the first half of the year to retake the crown as the world's top automaker from General Motors Co.

The Japanese company sold about 300,000 more cars and trucks than GM did in the first half of the year, a lead large enough that it will be difficult for GM to catch Toyota in the final six months of 2012.

GM said it sold 4.67 million vehicles during the first half. Both companies released their numbers yesterday.

For Toyota Motor Corp., the numbers underline a powerful rebound from a period of dismal sales, and the resilience of its brand as it gains traction in new markets such as China and Southeast Asia while clawing back lost market share in the United States.

Both companies have said in the past that they don't care about the global sales leadership and are focusing on making profits. But the crown is a matter of corporate pride for both automakers.

GM doesn't plan to drop out of the race, though. The company's sales and market share grew in China, and Chevrolet, its largest brand, has seen record growth for seven straight quarters, spokesman Jim Cain said. GM sales should rise because 70 percent of its U.S. models will be refurbished or all-new in the next two years, said Cain.

"We are in the early days of the most aggressive rollout of new products in our history, which will help us press our advantage in the U.S. and China and grow profitably around the world," he said, declining to comment on whether the company expects to pass Toyota in the second half.

Toyota's production was hit by the earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan last year and then by flooding in Thailand, an important production base for the automaker. Before those disasters its sales were dented by massive U.S. safety recalls: some 14 million vehicles since the quality control problems emerged three years ago.

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