Toyota unseats king GM

Firm is tops in sales in quarter for 1st time

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. became the world's top auto seller in the first three months of the year, passing rival General Motors Corp. for the first time, the Japanese automaker said yesterday.

Toyota sold 2.35 million vehicles worldwide in the January-March quarter, the company said, surpassing the 2.26 million vehicles that GM said it sold. The results mark the first time Toyota has beaten GM in global sales on a quarterly basis.

Toyota's reputation for quality and fuel efficiency has lifted sales of the popular Camry, Corolla, and Prius gas-and-electric hybrid while GM has cut production as high fuel prices turned people away from its light trucks and sports utility vehicles.

While the figures represent only quarterly sales results, they foreshadow a tough challenge for GM as it fights to hold onto it title as world's top automaker -- a claim usually staked on annual production figures.

Toyota has been gaining steadily on GM in recent years, and analysts have been saying it is only a matter of time before it eclipses its Detroit-based rival, which has seen its market share shrink in the United States even as it leads sales in China.

In 2006, Toyota's global production surged 10 percent to 9.018 million vehicles, while GM and its group automakers produced 9.18 million vehicles worldwide -- a gap of about 162,000. In the first quarter, Toyota made 2.37 million vehicles worldwide, while GM had expected to produce 2.34 million.