By on January 4, 2022

Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp looks set to embarrass American automakers on their home turf by ending the year as the U.S. market’s top-selling brand for 2021.

Toyota had previously reported it moved 688,813 vehicles in the United States from April to June, outperforming General Motors and setting the stage for the rest of the year. At the time, the domestic manufacturer claimed its numbers were down due to the global semiconductor shortage that continues to disproportionally impact American automakers. While there are a few sound logistical reasons for that, the chip deficit also becomes a convenient excuse for brands that cannot seem to get their general supply chains under control. No matter how you slice it, GM looks to have screwed up managing inventory and Toyota is picking up the slack.

Granted, all brands have yet to announce their full-year sales assessment. But Toyota already had a noteworthy lead on GM going into October and practically every outlet tracking the industry had already called it for the company going into the holiday break. In the first nine months of 2021, Toyota sold 1.86 million vehicles in the United States to GM’s 1.78 million. For the sake of comparison, the Detroit-based manufacturer managed to keep a healthy distance in 2020 by selling 2.55 million units within America to Big T’s 2.11 million — though the latter sum was still good enough for second place.

Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) said it moved 2,332,262 vehicles through all of 2021, however, the relevant reports focused primarily on its “electrified powered vehicle” (EVP) sales so it could virtue signal over how many more electrified products were sold during a particularly rough year. Investors will undoubtedly be happy because electric good, gas bad. But Toyota’s EVPs encompass everything from your standard hybrid to a fully electric plug-in car or hydrogen-powered bauble. Regardless, you’re probably not supposed to think about it as hard as I clearly do.

“Despite a second consecutive year of challenges, TMNA focused on delivering an exceptional customer experience, and we remain optimistic as our electrification strategy further evolves,” said Jack Hollis, senior vice president, Automotive Operations Group, TMNA. “Thanks to our phenomenal dealers and world-class purchasing and manufacturing teams, our inventory continues to improve and we’re preparing to introduce 21 all-new, refreshed or special edition vehicles in 2022.”

Dealerships, which have made an absolute killing as vehicle pricing continues to break records, were likewise said to be embracing new ways of doing business while revamping physical locations to cater to customers and new product. The automaker said digital retail sales of new vehicles through its SmartPath and Monogram platforms surged past 50,000 at nearly 140 dealers, adding that “more than 300 dealers will go live on both platforms by middle of 2022.”

Though, if you incorporate Lexus-branded sites, Toyota technically has around 1,500 storefronts dotted across North America. We also wouldn’t call General Motors a total loser in this until we’ve seen how much money everyone has made.

Despite Toyota taking the volumetric victory, GM has said that it’s been focusing on maximizing profitability while it continues to struggle with production setbacks. Domestic automakers tend to sell larger vehicles (specifically trucks and SUVs) with broader margins. Right now, they’re all preoccupied with finding ways to leverage that without losing more customers than absolutely necessary. Assuming domestic production soon returns to something approaching normal and pricing remains high, GM may be feeling a lot better about how 2021 went by the end of 2022. The company seems more than willing to suggest this speculative scenario, too. But I would imagine that’s because it puts a more positive spin on a lackluster 12-month period. It’s the same reason Ford harps on pickup/brand sales every single year, regardless of how well it performs against GM. Most companies have at least one feather in their cap and they’re happy to display it for as long as they can manage.

It wasn’t all that long ago when General Motors CEO Mary Barra was championing the company’s decision to pull out of Europe and Russia to help enhance profitability. This was true in a technical sense and perhaps even wise since the brunt of GM’s foreign investments is currently focused on China. But it still represents the automaker retreating from two rather large markets that Toyota continues to occupy, not that things are totally perfect.

Toyota actually lost with Lexus in December. The luxury arm is going through some changes as the company decides how best to implement electrification and saw total volume decline by 37 percent against the same month in 2020. Thankfully, Lexus’ year-over-year growth for 2021 matched Toyota’s — giving a combined average growth of 10.4 percent.

Then again, December looks to have been a particularly bad month for the industry in general. Early reports suggest that new vehicle sales were down by around 30 percent across the board vs the same time in 2020. Framed that way, Toyota actually did pretty well with Lexus.

[Images: Toyota]

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45 Comments on “Toyota Is Now America’s Best-Selling Automaker...”


  • avatar
    Heino

    Please don’t tell GM.

  • avatar
    redapple

    1 Toyota makes very good cars. High quality. Low Maint.
    2 Toyota makes ugly cars. Hint- hire the H K guys.
    3 The object of the exercise is to make money. Sales tally comes after. GM, as much as I hate them, MAKES MONEY.
    4 Note to my classmate Mary. Retire ASAP. They pushed all the 9th level unclassifieds and below out at 55. You’ve turned 60. Bail before this BEV conversion takes hold. The disaster will be laid at your feet. Bailing now leaves you with the plausible position that you left the chess board set up perfectly.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      If you were really Mary’s classmate, what percent women in your class? How did the other ones do?

      This EV (BS) is hers. Or perhaps her life coach, or some bright genius from Davos, sold her on it. No matter. She owns it now. She wants to make GM a “tech company”. Do you think she is another prodigy like Elon Musk? Perhaps… we will see.

      Toyota is perceived as high quality. I think they still make the highest quality. They also are “least annoying”. My Toyota rentals have been competent and well-done. Given the other annoyances I’ve experienced in Nissans, VWs, and Fords, (but not GM…), in 2017-2020, lack of annoyance is exciting!

      I have generally disliked Toyota most of my life. Yes, the Celica, Supra, MR2, 92-96 Camry, 5-speed manual, 4-valves per cylinder were great, but they peddled mostly boring cars.

      Well now, cars are all so good, they are boring, and increasingly annoying, with their nanny state reminders and counterintuitive controls. But Toyotas remain intuitive! So now, my grudging respect has turned into appreciation.

      But beware..the “new operating system”, the CVTs, 8-speed autos vs 6-speed…will those do to Toyota what weirdness and turbos have done to Civics and Honda?

      If Matt Posky’s number is correct, and gm.com press release is correct, 2.218 million looks like Toyota is number one in the USA. They not only have cars people like, they appeared to have managed the chip shortage better. I predict next year, the gap will be bigger.

      Not sure how GM sold 1.78 million units in October, 28-Cars-Later…

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @tomLU86: “If you were really Mary’s classmate, what percent women in your class? How did the other ones do?”

        I can’t answer for redapple, but I think there were three others that I know of in the spring semester just prior to Barra starting. Dawn S. and Lisa C. I knew both of them. There was a third, but I don’t remember her name. They were there in spring before Mary started in the fall. Not sure if they graduated prior to her starting, but they might have been upperclassmen.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      “…General Motors currently expects chip availability to improve steadily over the course of the year. That would enable normal production in 2023, potentially positioning GM for record revenue and earnings in that year from meeting pent-up demand and rebuilding dealer inventories.

      Looking further ahead, General Motors has one of the most aggressive roadmaps for electric vehicles (EVs) among traditional automakers. GM expects its annual EV sales to eclipse 1 million by 2025, with rapid growth continuing thereafter. Meanwhile, the company’s Cruise subsidiary is just one permit away from becoming the first company to launch a true robotaxi service in California.

      In short, GM is on track to report excellent results over the next few years and has a clear runway for long-term revenue and earnings growth. That makes GM stock a steal at its recent valuation of approximately nine times earnings…” fool dot com

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      1) So does GM
      2) That is true however so does the H K siblings.
      3) At least someone gets it.
      4) Eye roll

    • 0 avatar

      With its current EV strategy, GM is sitting on one of the biggest bombs ever. Unfortunately, for Barra she now owns this mess.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    What’s more shocking to me is GM sold 1.78m units in USDM in October.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    Don’t know how any one could extrapolate this in to any conclusion with the “chip” shortage. Whomever has chips can make cars and sell them. GM would pile incentives on their trucks to move the numbers if this were normal times. I predict once the chip shortage ends (late ’22 or even 2023) there will hardly be a spread at all between Toyota and GM,

    • 0 avatar
      CaddyDaddy

      CaddyDaddy is starting to see lots of Full Size Tundra’s on the road in Colorado. New and Used. I personally know 2 Chev owners that moved to Toyota due to DOD issues in their GMTs. The stigma to be a Chevy man is wearing off especially when the truck leaves your wife stranded with valve train issues on Rabbit Ears pass in a snowstorm without warning. BTW, Ford still appears to be the truck of choice by a large margin here on the Front Range.

      I’m sorry the General’s future ain’t rosy unless .gov steps in and offers massive incentives for UAW built EV’s.

      • 0 avatar

        The Tundra is rated as the most reliable truck. GM trucks are rated at the bottom. In the end superior quality wins every time.

        Except for the Corvette and a few Cadillac sedans, what does GM excel at?

        • 0 avatar
          dividebytube

          That is a question I can never answer. Except for the C8, I don’t have much interest in GM.

          And this from an ex-Chevy / Buick owner. Heck I’ve done two engine swaps on a ’86 Monte Carlo and a ’81 Malibu. After the death of the B-Body, my urge to buy GM began dropping steadily. Add in the rise of the crossover – not all are bad – and GM just lost it with me.

          Of course the average Equinox driver doesn’t care what I think.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          “Except for the Corvette and a few Cadillac sedans, what does GM excel at?”

          They have the smallblock…..

          That’s why the ‘Vette is awesome. And why, if any still, Cadillac sedans may be as well. It’s also a very nice truck engine.

          As pragmatic as Toyota is, I still don’t think they have it in them, to sell a light vehicle with a pushrod engine. Leaving an almost permanent niche for GM (and sorta-kinda Ford, now..)

  • avatar
    SnarkyRichard

    I’m not surprised after they stood by their product and replaced the frame on my 8 year old Tacoma in 2014 even though the Dana company made those frames that were not treated for use in northern climates . Since that was my only vehicle at the time they also paid for a rental truck from Enterprise for almost 6 months . That truck , built at the American Nummi plant , still idles almost silent and runs like a top today . Long live Toyota !

    • 0 avatar
      JRED

      I recently found for sale online an early 2000s Tacoma, in SC (not far from me), with a rusted out frame. For cheap (under $2k), with under 200k miles. I told the seller about the frame warranty, and advised him to check with Toyota. He didn’t want to fool with it, told me I could deal with that if I bought it. He provided me the VIN # to check warranty status, and…..it had missed the window by about 6 months. I spoke with Toyota about it and they advised that, due to the generosity of the term they provided, they wouldn’t be able to honor the expired warranty. Fair enough, but man that would have been nice.

      • 0 avatar
        SnarkyRichard

        Only the original owner was eligible for the frame replacement so if he missed the window that’s his fault – good thing you didn’t buy it , probably only good for parting out . All together the cost was $16,790 and that didn’t include a loaner truck(F150 crew cab 2 months, Toyota double cab the rest) from August 12th 2014 to January 6th 2015 .I still find it hard to believe they paid for all that , but it happened .

  • avatar

    When GM culled nearly its entire passenger carline a few years ago I knew this was going to happen. It is a case of basic mathematics. By canceling the Cruze, Impala, XTS, and Lacrosse GM probably lost around 300,000 annual customers. Toyota beat GM by 100,000 sales this year.

    Sales of Cruze, Impala, XTS, and Lacrosse = 300,000
    Toyota’s lead over GM 2021 = 100,000

    300,000 – 100,000 = 200,000

    If GM still had these cars still in production, they would have beaten Toyota by about 200,000 units this year.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      akear-
      In 2020 GM sold just shy of 10,000 Impalas. If GM were able to complete more Silverado/Sierra trucks it would have been a much tighter race. Head on over to Goodcarbadcar.com for accurate numbers.

      Again-I think under the COVID/Chip shortage the article is pretty useless.

      • 0 avatar

        The sales of those cars only really declined when GM announced their cancellation. In its prime GM was selling over 200,000 Cruzes annually. In contrast, GM has never sold more than 25,000 Bolts a year. This year due to the battery fire issues I don’t think GM even sold 15,000 Bolts.
        I believe this trend will continue and Toyota will be even further ahead next year.
        The lesson here is don’t try to cut your way to profitability.

        • 0 avatar
          la834

          Except for the Cruze, there’s nobody else selling cars to replace them. Toyota is scrapping the Avalon, Ford already ditched the Taurus. Big sedans aren’t selling.

          • 0 avatar

            Toyota manages to sell close to 400,000 Camry’s a year. Kia car sales have skyrocketed in the last few years. Many believe Kia is the beneficiary of cars GM and Ford used to sell. The other day I saw a Kia lot full of late-model GM and Ford sedans.
            Look, GM is 120,000 units behind Toyota for 2021. There must be a logical reason for this, and it goes far beyond the chip crisis.

            I also should mention Toyota handled the chip crisis better than GM.

            On the international stage, Toyota sells four million more vehicles than GM!! A few years-ago Nissan surpassed GM on the global stage. This may explain why yesterday’s news was not a surprise.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Congratulations to the denizens on the top floors of the Ren Cen! Managed Decline was the goal. Anything else would have required too much stamina, brain power and intellectual discipline. I can’t believe the party lasted this long?

    FAIL:
    Vega, TH200, 8-6-4 V-8, Olds 350 Diesel, HT4100, half baked effort on the Fiero, Northstar, LS Engine Displacement on Demand, 3.6L High Feature V-6, 4L-60E in 1/2 ton trucks and the great start with Saturn that you turned into sewer sludge. All these owners and their kids moved to imports.

    Sure you had some home runs, GMT 89-98′, B-Bodies with TBI 350s and LT-1s, Duramaxs with Allison Trans (let’s just ignore the injector issues), pre DOD LS engines, 3800 powered Buicks and early Saturns!

    …. in the end people just wanted simple, boring reliable transportation.

    Cheap Money, Bailouts and Patriots who want to believe in their country eventually all die out.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Agree with you CaddyDaddy. For most of my life my parents, grandparents, siblings, and me have bought GM but now its Toyotas, Lexus, Honda, Subaru, Ford trucks. I currently have a 2012 Buick Lacrosse E assist which I love but except for the hybrid Maverick I ordered I will most likely not buyer another vehicle from the Detroit 2 1/2. Loved the prior Impalas and Lacrosses but don’t care much for GMs full size trucks and don’t really want the midsize Colorado/Canyon which is larger than I want or need. Don’t like GM and Ford’s turbo 3s and 4s which will not hold up over the long run.

    • 0 avatar
      la834

      If you’re going back as far as the Vega, don’t forget the Citation!

      • 0 avatar
        eng_alvarado90

        Agreed, also the EV1, 4T65E-HD transmissions killed by stock 3800 SC/LS4 engines and all the 60 degree 3.4 and 3.1 V6s killed by early 2000s Dexcool. The list goes on

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yep, going back to the Corvair GM has let bean counters prioritize price over quality, and 60 years later here we are. You’d think they’d have figured it out at some point, but culture is hard to change. I owned a 2005 Pontiac, 2007 Honda and 2008 Toyota. The Pontiac with 50K miles had more problems than the other two combined, with over 150K miles each. Sorry GM, my time is valuable, and I’m not going to spend it dealing with your issues.

  • avatar
    ajla

    GM quit me, I didn’t quit them.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    GM is a joke. They just want to keep building bof gas hogs like always. When they do make good stuff they dont market it, kill it and bury it. Best example is the volt. It got no marketing, low sales (duh) and so they kill it. Do they expand the voltech powertrain to the rest of the lineup while toyota is selling as many rav4 hybrids as they can make? Nope they buried it. F gm they shoulda been left to go into liquidation in 09.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Toyota makes reasonably reliable appliances. They don’t chase market share quotas, niche areas, or fads. They plod along making conservative methodical changes.
    GM tried to fill every niche, they chased market share, and tried chasing trends. They believed they were too big to fail. They nickel and dimed quality down the toilet….

    So, here we are!

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      No one is too big to fail. Originally GM’s model of a product for every pocket book was their ticket to success but that hasn’t worked since the early 70s. It seems like every manufacturer has cheapened the quality of their components especially carpet and door handles and latches. As prices of materials continue to rise the quality of materials used in new vehicles will decline and prices of new vehicles will rise.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Toyota just may be losing it a bit even as they claim the sales crown. There are Toyota models that Consumer’s Reports surveys are proving to be less than stellar in their repair records. The current generation RAV4 for example has had a spotty overall repair record. I owned a 2020 hybid example for 18 months and 23,000 miles. It suffered a 12 volt battery drain in less than 17 hours one night promptimg me to buy and carry a 12v jumper battery (an issue noted on RAV4 forums), it had the fuel tank issue that they fixed. The cruise control failed twice, requiring restarting the vehicle to get it up again. After two long road trips, for a week afterwards, the brake system emitted multiple loud and random “wooop” sounds, both while driving it and when it was shut off. Its plastic rear bumper is thin where it tucks under at the bottom, it is flimsy enough that it audibly fluttered in the airstream constantly at highway speed. It also suffered from a symphony of multiple rattles. Thanks to the current crazy used car market I got to unload it for practically the same amount of money I bought it for.

    • 0 avatar
      1337cr3w

      Sucks you got a bad Rav. I have a 2021 hybrid and it’s been solid so far. I understand there’s a TSB for the battery drain issue on the DCM

      Don’t blame you for offloading it though – it’s a great time to sell your car

  • avatar
    Socrates77

    Love my 2020 Rav4. I rather ride a bike than even consider a chevy equinox. Not surprised toyota is numero uno. Since dumb gm decided not to sell sedans so they can make more profits on their overpriced big trucks. Toyota will happily sell thousands of Camrys and corollas. Bye bye GM

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      First of all, have you driven an Equinox? It’s just as good as the Rav4. Apparently you have poor taste in styling but that’s subjective. Second, why is it dumb to focus on the products which make money? You do know that’s how businesses work right? Third, how do you know their trucks are overpriced when their pricing is competitive with other truck makers? Yes, Toyota can sell thousands of those cars while GM sells thousands of trucks.

      • 0 avatar
        johnds

        Teddy do you work with Norm at the Chevrolet/Buick dealer? The Terrain and Equinox are terrible vehicles. Maybe better than the Trax or encore. Very bad reputation especially the previous generation terrain/equinox for engine problems no matter which engine you got. I’d check out the car wizard on YouTube if you really want to know how bad the equinox is.

  • avatar
    MitchConner

    Mary sold GM Europe, which has been losing money for decades, to Groupe PSA (Stellantis). It posted a $587M USD profit at the close of its next full fiscal year. Don’t forget she also bailed from Australia and a bunch of Asian countries as well. Cut your way to prosperity. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Just like when they turfed a bunch of brands to devote more resources to the existing ones. How did that work out?

    When the final numbers come out, GM’s finance and communications people are going to parse the numbers until they come up some BS moved goal post such as “GM is investing in the future — look no further than our results in 2021 where we sold more vehicles on platforms less than 5 years old than any other manufacturer. WE WIN.

    GM thinks that kind of nonsense will fool others when the bottom line is they’re only BSing themselves. That outfit’s culture has been a breeding ground for corporate stooges since the early 60s.

    • 0 avatar

      Cutting your way to profitability is right out of the Jack Welch school of business. It did not work well for Boeing either.

      • 0 avatar
        tomLU86

        Cutting your way to profitability worked well for Mr. Welch himself though.

        While the clock ran out and GM had to be bailed out, just before GM ran out of money, it had two credible, competitive cars: the 2008-2012 Malibu and the 2011-2016 Cruze. Unfortunately, GM found a way to make their successors feel cheaper and look uglier… Had they improved, they were credible Camcord and Corolla/Civic (especailly Civic…) alternatives. GM also gets an “attaboy” for the original ATS–had they just spend $20 more on the instrument panel, and had they launched it with the turbo motor standard and priced it in the low $30s, it might have worked.

        The Volt was clever, but a money loser, which is why GM didn’t advertise or market it well–to the public, that is. They used the Volt to help make their case for the bailout.

        The Camaro was developed before bankruptcy also.

        Some one in the Ren Cen knew GM could not continue with mediocrity (Bob Lutz!), as all of these products were largely designed pre-bankruptcy (as was as the GMT900 trucks, another winner).

        Any one of those vehicles I would drive and buy in 2008-2014. I had excellent luck with my Malibu, and my brother leased or owned two ATSs, I told him he should write GM and be their spokesperson.

        The only mainstream product (Corvette is not mainstream) since bankruptcy that is of interest is the Colorado—and it is not a home run, but overall it’s about the same as Tacoma.

        But GM raised their “cost-cutting” game since bankruptcy, a lot of it from consolidated the number of engines offered, no longer carrying so many brands and having 3-4 flavors of the same thing, all saving a lot of money, generating profits which are now going to go up in smoke with EVs.

        • 0 avatar
          MitchConner

          I remember reading somewhere the largest selling Volt dealer in the United States was just outside of Detroit. Their GSM took all of GM’s sales training materials, threw them in the trash, and developed his own. Their success was based on doing a far better job of explaining the benefits of its drivetrain to consumers — going so far as to create a spreadsheet based on monthly mileage driven to show individuals that if they only drove a few miles a day — they could get by on battery power alone.

          A requirement for every marketing person in the automotive industry should be a 12 month stint on the front lines of a dealership learning how to sell cars and what training and merchandising support consumers need to be sold. But, no, show up with your hihg falutin’ MBA, get a cubical, then fire up a spreadsheet and you’re good to go create dopey initiatives like ordering dealers to renovate their stores at tremendous expense so they all look the same for a consistent brand experience (as if customers care about horse droppings like that).

          GM does a great job at developing certain stuff like drivetrains but it absolutely stinks at sales and marketing.

  • avatar

    GM quit making new vehicle brochures for 2021. I’m sure that helped~

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