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The Toyota logo on the grille of a 2021 Tacoma pickup truck, at the Denver auto show, on Sept. 17, 2021.David Zalubowski/The Associated Press

Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. outsold General Motors Co. in the United States in 2021, marking the first time the Detroit automaker has not led U.S. auto sales for a full year since 1931.

Toyota sold 2.332 million vehicles in the United States in 2021, compared with 2.218 million for General Motors, the automakers said on Tuesday.

GM’s U.S. sales were down 13 per cent for 2021 – and down 43 per cent in the fourth quarter – while Toyota was up 10 per cent for the year. GM last had lower sales in 2010 at 2.202 million.

For all of 2020, GM’s U.S. sales totalled 2.55 million, compared with Toyota’s 2.11 million and Ford Motor Co.’s 2.04 million.

Last year was marred by a shortage of semi-conductors used heavily in vehicles, forcing automakers to focus on their most profitable models.

GM said on Tuesday it expects U.S. economic growth will boost U.S. total light-duty vehicle industry sales from around 15 million in 2021 to around 16 million in 2022.

GM has been the largest seller of vehicles in the United States since 1931, when it surpassed Ford , according to data from industry publication Automotive News.

Toyota is not boasting about the accomplishment. Senior vice-president Jack Hollis said the automaker is “grateful” for its loyal customers, but “being No. 1 is never a focus or priority.”

The Japanese automaker does not see it as sustainable that it can retain its U.S. sales lead and had no plans to use the 2021 accomplishment in any kind of advertising, he added. Toyota had been credited by analysts for weathering the chip shortage better than other automakers.

GM spokesman Jim Cain said the Detroit automaker had a very strong sales year in the United States in full-size SUVs and pickup trucks as it has focused on profitability, and as the supply of semi-conductors improves, so will sales.

“I wouldn’t rush out if I were [Toyota], and get a ‘We’re No. 1′ tattoo,” he said.

GM under chief executive officer Mary Barra also has emphasized profitability over volume, abandoning such money-losing markets as Europe and Russia.

For the entire industry, Cox Automotive forecast U.S. new vehicle sales in December will be down 32 per cent year on year – the slowest pace since May, 2020, when the country remained mostly closed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Industry analysts forecast around 15 million vehicles sold for all of 2021 in the United States. U.S. vehicle sales will remain well below the five-year average of 17.3 million from 2015 to 2019.

IHS Markit forecasts U.S. sales are expected to reach nearly 15.5 million in 2022, up an estimated 2.6 per cent from the projected 2021 level of approximately 15.1 million vehicles.

Toyota sees industry sales jumping to 16.5 million this year, with demand even higher if the industry can boost production further, with its own sales topping 2.4 million.

“If you would have asked me to predict how the year was going to go at the beginning of [last] January, I would have gotten it all wrong because this whole microchip shortage just came out of left field and it wreaked a lot of havoc,” Hyundai Motor America sales chief Randy Parker said in an interview. “But at the same time, it sharpened our skill set.”

“I’m very bullish on 2022,” he added. Hyundai’s U.S. sales last year rose 19 per cent to more than 738,000 vehicles, including a record number on the retail side.

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