In 2008, Toyota became the largest carmaker in the world, producing nearly 9 million vehicles. Toyota surpassed General Motors, who had held that title for 77 years, by over 600,000 vehicles.
As Toyota specialists, we're pleased. As lifelong fans of GM, we're also a little sad.
Both manufacturers downplayed the significance of Toyota's ascension to the top of the sales charts, which is the culmination of a decades-long steady climb by Toyota and a precipitous drops by GM, especially in the past year.
While GM executives are optimistic about a return to the top spot, the Lowell's Corporate Office of Fearless Predictions says that won't happen. Toyota will remain #1 for the next 20 years or more.
As we've noted before, GM and the other Detroit automakers have structural disadvantages in their business design relative to Japanese automakers which their executives have been either unwilling or unable to decisively address.
Meanwhile, Toyota has historically invested in new technologies and new capabilities long before the market demanded them, and stood ready to take advantage of sudden shifts in market demand.
Toyota isn't always right — they released their huge 2008 Tundra and Sequoia models right into the teeth of $4 gas — but they almost always put themselves in position to be right. With gas prices lower, their big models may get some traction, especially against similar GM, Ford, and Dodge models. When gas prices shoot back up, they can rely on the Prius and their other hybrid models to continue their market gains.
Toyota consistently makes collections of bets which advantage the company relative to its competitors. When those bets don't work out (witness the Tundra), the Detroit 3 suffers more than Toyota (witness the sudden implosion of Detroit's truck-heavy business). And the other bets Toyota makes (like hybrid, solar, and electric vehicle techologies) more than compensate for the ones that don't succeed.
That's why Toyota will stay in the top spot.