Toyota Motor sold more cars and trucks in the United States last year than General Motors, the first year in history that a foreign automaker overtook American manufacturers.
GM, Ford Motor, and other American automakers produced and sold fewer cars in 2021 than they had hoped because they were hit hard by a global shortage of computer chips. Toyota was less affected by the shortage for most of the year as a large supply of parts had accumulated.
The win for Toyota came in a strange year for the industry. In addition to the shortage of chips, the coronavirus pandemic and the associated supply chain problems depressed sales and drove prices for new and used cars to sometimes dizzying heights. According to estimates by Cox Automotive, a company that tracks the industry, automakers sold nearly 15 million new vehicles in 2021. That’s 2.5 percent more than in 2020, but well below the 17 million vehicles the industry typically sold before the pandemic broke out.
Toyota said Tuesday that it sold 2.3 million trucks and cars in the United States, up about 10 percent from 2020. GM sold 2.2 million vehicles, about 13 percent fewer than a year earlier. Ford is expected to come in third when it releases its sales data on Wednesday.
“The dominance of US automakers in the US market is just over,” said Erik Gordon, University of Michigan economics professor who oversees the auto industry. “Toyota may not beat GM this year, but the fact that they did it is a symbol of how the industry has changed. No US automaker can claim market share just because they are American. “
The shortage of chips is due to the start of the pandemic when car factories around the world closed to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. At the same time, sales of computers and other consumer electronics increased. When automakers resumed production, fewer chips were available to them.
Toyota had access to more available chips because it changed its strategy and set aside larger inventories of parts after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 brought production of several key components to a standstill.
GM had topped the auto sales charts for nearly a century after pulling by Ford in the late 1920s and early 30s.
Toyota began selling cars in the United States in 1965 and began manufacturing at its first US facility in Georgetown, Kentucky in 1988. Its growth also created trade tensions between the United States and Japan and sparked popular fears that Japanese companies would decimate American businesses.
Toyota then expanded into luxury cars with its Lexus brand, adding the Toyota Tundra full-size pickup truck to compete in a segment dominated by manufacturers based in and around Detroit. At the beginning of this century, the Toyota Camry was often the best-selling car in the country, and the Japanese automaker soon overtook Chrysler and Ford in annual sales.
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The global upswing. The coronavirus is spreading faster than ever in early 2022, but the final days of 2021 brought the encouraging news that the Omicron variant produces fewer serious diseases than previous waves. As a result, governments are focusing more on expanding vaccination than limiting its spread.
Its image was further enhanced with the introduction of the Prius hybrid as gasoline prices rose and consumers became more focused on fuel economy. The company continues to dominate the sale of hybrid vehicles that couple gasoline engines with batteries and electric motors.
However, Toyota has been slower to familiarize itself with all-electric vehicles, which could undermine its growth in the years to come. Sales of all-battery electric cars and trucks are growing rapidly around the world, and Tesla is a leader in this segment of the industry. The electric automaker reported a nearly 90 percent increase in global sales in 2021, and its stocks are worth far more than stocks of Toyota, GM, Ford, Volkswagen and other major automakers combined.
Toyota was also affected by the shortage of chips. In the past few months, the company has had to cut production globally because it ran out of chips and had to wait for its suppliers to produce more.