In a seismic shift, Toyota Motor North America outsold General Motors in 2021, becoming the largest seller of motor vehicles in the U.S. in a single calendar year for the first time ever.
The company is also expected to capture the global sales crown for 2021 as well. It was the leader through the first three quarters of the year.
The Japanese automaker sold a total of 2,332,262 Toyota and Lexus brand vehicles, according to its final sales report for the 2021 calendar year. GM, on the other hand, sold 2,218,228 Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac brand vehicles during the same 12 months.
In 2020, GM sold a total of 2,547,339 vehicles, while Toyota sold 2,112,941 vehicles.
Final count reflects broad trends
The shift reflects Toyota’s ability to keep its factories operating at a relatively high level despite the challenges created by semiconductor shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, it also reflects longer-term trends, such as GM’s decision to withdraw from the traditional passenger car market in favor of trucks, crossovers and SUVs. Now Toyota is the market share leader in that segment, including boasting the top selling passenger car, the Camry, which has held the title for 20 years in a row.
Additionally, Toyota’s strength in key markets such as California, where it eclipsed GM years ago, and Texas, which is now the Japanese automaker’s North American headquarters, cannot be overlooked.
Toyota also laid claim to being the number one retail brand for the 10th consecutive year. Vehicles such as the Camry, Highlander, RAV4, Sienna, Tacoma and Lexus NX are the best-selling models in their respective segments.
GM truck sales and production issues
GM, on the other hand, has become more dependent than ever on its trucks and full-size sport-utility vehicles.
The combined sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra LD and HD were 768,689 units. The company’s share of the retail market in 2021 was approximately 39%, according to J.D. Power PIN estimates — 10 points higher than the next closest competitor.
GM has led the industry in retail sales in the full-size pickup segment every year since 2003, according to Power’s estimates. Commercial fleet sales of full-size pickups increased 10% while medium-duty trucks were up 30 percent. Commercial sales of GM’s full-size SUVs increased 59% and midsize pickups increased 37 percent.
Big change for industry?
Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of insights, noted the historic nature of the shift.
“It seems oddly fitting that 2021, already an extraordinarily unusual year for the automotive industry, will be capped off with General Motors losing its sales crown to another automaker for the first time in decades,” she said.
“There’s no question that this is a remarkable feat for Toyota, but this is not likely a sign of a long-term change: GM has an advantage in that it has more brands and products for consumers to choose from, namely large trucks and SUVs, which have only increased in popularity over the years. The domestic automaker has also been enjoying record high average transaction prices and likely higher profit margins for the sale of these larger vehicles.”
Caldwell added GM has also been transparent when it comes to specific goals and a roadmap toward an electrified and autonomous future, which is possibly a more accurate indicator for the company’s long-term success.
“All eyes will be on GM’s anticipated Chevy Silverado EV unveiled at CES later this week, which will be yet another feather in the cap for the company and its growing list of EV products in the pipeline,” she said.