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Toyota topped GM in US car sales in 2021, a first for a foreign automaker

GM, Ford
Motor and other US automakers produced and sold fewer cars than they were
hoping to in 2021 because they were hit hard by a global computer chip
shortage. Toyota was less affected by the shortage for much of the year because
it had accumulated a large stockpile of the parts.

The victory
for Toyota comes in a strange year for the industry. In addition to the chip
shortage, the coronavirus pandemic and related supply-chain problems depressed
sales while driving up prices of new and used cars, sometimes to dizzying
heights. Auto manufacturers sold just under 15 million new vehicles in 2021,
according to estimates by Cox Automotive, a firm that tracks the industry. That
is 2.5 percent more than in 2020 but well short of the 17 million vehicles the
industry typically sold before the pandemic took hold.

Toyota said
Tuesday that it sold 2.3 million trucks and cars in the United States, which
was slightly ahead of GM’s 2.2 million. Ford is expected to finish third when
it releases its sales data Wednesday.

“The
dominance of the US automakers of the US. market is just over,” said Erik
Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan who follows the auto
industry. “Toyota might not beat GM again this year, but the fact that they did
it is symbolic of how the industry changed. No US automaker can think of
themselves as entitled to market share just because they’re American.”

The shortage
of chips stems from the beginning of the pandemic when auto plants around the
world closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, sales
of computers and other consumer electronics took off. When automakers resumed
production, they found fewer chips available to them.

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Toyota had
access to more chips available because it changed its strategy and set aside
larger stockpiles of parts after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan knocked out
production of several key components in 2011.

GM had
topped the chart in auto sales for nearly a century, after speeding past Ford
in the late 1920s and early ’30s.

Toyota
started selling cars in the United States in 1965 and started production at its
first US plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1988, building a reputation for
quality as GM, Ford and Chrysler struggled. Its growth also raised trade
tensions between the United States and Japan and gave rise to popular fears
that Japanese businesses would decimate US companies.

Toyota then
expanded into luxury cars with its Lexus brand and added the Toyota Tundra
full-size pickup truck to compete in a segment dominated by the manufacturers
based in and around Detroit. By the beginning of this century, the Toyota Camry
was often the top-selling car in the country, and the Japanese automaker soon
passed both Chrysler and Ford in annual sales.

Its image
was further enhanced when it introduced the Prius hybrid as gasoline prices
were rising and consumer tastes were focusing more on fuel economy.

But Toyota
has been slower to embrace fully electric vehicles, which could undercut its
growth in the coming years. Sales of electric cars and trucks solely powered by
batteries are growing fast around the world, and Tesla dominates that segment
of the industry. The electric carmaker reported a nearly 90 percent jump in
global sales in 2021, and its shares are worth vastly more than the stocks of
Toyota, GM, Ford, Volkswagen and other major automakers combined.

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Toyota has
also not been spared by the chip shortage. In recent months, the company has
had to sharply slow production because as it has exhausted its chip stockpile
it had to wait for its suppliers to make more.

© 2022 The
New York Times Company

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