TOKYO - For the first time, Toyota has sold more vehicles in a quarter than General Motors, according to preliminary January-March figures - the clearest sign yet that the Japanese company is on track to overtake its U.S. rival as the world's top automaker.
Toyota Motor Corp.'s success is fueled by demand for its reliable, fuel-efficient models, including the Camry, Corolla, Yaris, and gas-electric hybrid Prius.
Meanwhile, General Motors Corp., which has been the top automaker for 76 years but lost $2 billion last year, has scaled back production and cut costs in a bid to revive itself.
Although bragging rights won't be decided until worldwide production is tallied for the full year, Toyota said it had sold 2.35 million vehicles in the first quarter. GM said it had sold 2.26 million.
Last year, Toyota's global output rose 10 percent to 9.018 million vehicles, while GM and its affiliates produced 9.18 million - a gap of about 162,000.
Analysts said Toyota was investing in ecological technology, opening plants around the world, developing new models, and wooing drivers with solid marketing that drove home its brand power.
GM has fallen behind Toyota in those areas, analysts said.
"Toyota sales are booming because of its good image around the world about reliability and ecological technology," said Koji Endo, auto analyst with Credit Suisse in Tokyo. "It's just the opposite for GM, and its image is deteriorating."
GM said that although Toyota had won the first quarter, the fight was not over for the year.
"We also had a record first quarter globally. We set sales records in three out of our four regions," GM spokesman John McDonald said. "Let's see what the rest of the year holds for us. We're going to fight for every sale."