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GM is still world No. 1, but Toyota moves closer

From Associated Press| January 19,2007

DETROIT -- General Motors Corp.'s 2006 worldwide sales dropped slightly to 9.09 million cars and trucks, but it's probably enough to keep the title of world's largest auto seller.

The Detroit automaker said Wednesday that its 2006 global sales fell 0.9 percent from 9.17 million in 2005. Toyota Motor Corp. has estimated that it sold 8.8 million vehicles last year, but its final numbers won't be released until later this month.

It's likely to be a much closer race this year, according to auto industry analysts who say that with Toyota experiencing growth in North America, GM may have to give up the title.

GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner has vowed a fight to keep the No. 1 spot.

"Let's just say it's going to be a good old-fashioned horse race for 2007," said Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for the auto consulting company IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids.

Toyota has said it expects to produce 9.42 million vehicles this year. Wagoner has said the company has capacity to produce more than Toyota says it will make this year.

GM, which is struggling with lagging North American sales and a corporate restructuring, attributed the 2006 decline in part to planned cuts of 75,000 vehicles sold to rental car companies for little profit.

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