Even as the global auto sales remain at the receiving end following the economic crisis caused due to chip shortage and rise in the number of Covid cases globally, Japanese carmaker Toyota led US automobile sales in 2021.
The shift atop the rankings came after a year in which assembly lines were plagued by a scarcity of the crucial computer chips, resulting in steep fourth-quarter sales declines for both companies.
Toyota has still managed to grow annual sales in the United States by 10.4 per cent to 2.3 million, while General Motors suffered a 12.9 per cent drop to 2.2 million.
Toyota saw small annual gains for two top-selling sedans, the Camry and the Corolla, and a modest dip in sales of its Rav4 compact SUV. Its full-sized Highlander SUV scored higher sales in 2021.
GM, which relies more heavily on trucks than Toyota, saw an annual 10.8 per cent drop in its Silverado pickup trucks and a 6.4 per cent fall in its GMC truck line.
GM has held the crown as the number-one company in US auto sales since 1931, when it supplanted Ford, according to trade publication Automotive News.
Charlie Chesbrough, the senior economist at Cox Automotive, noted that GMs’ de-emphasis on sedans has cost it some market share, and characterized Toyota’s ascendance as a “significant event” given GM’s longtime leader.
In an inventory-challenged market, Toyota also may have benefited from a smaller dealer network compared with GM, Ford, and Stellantis, which owns the Chrysler brands, he said.
“The larger dealer networks of GM/Ford/Stellantis may have faced a greater challenge of keeping the right product in the right market for the right buyer,” Chesbrough said in an email. “And, as a result, sales may have been trimmed because buyers couldn’t find the product they wanted.”
Meanwhile, Cox has projected 2021 US sales of 14.9 million, up 2.5 per cent from the 2020 level but much below the five-year average. The consultancy has pointed to strong demand but anaemic inventories, saying “demand is healthy but… you can’t sell what you don’t have.”
A shortage in semiconductors has been one of the emblematic supply chain problems of the Covid-19 pandemic.