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Toyota passes GM as America’s best-selling automaker

One expert says the company did a better job of handling supply issues and the chip shortage

Toyota dealership and sign concept
Photo (c) dogayusufdokdok - Getty Images
When Toyota announced its North American year-end 2021 sales figures on Tuesday, it had lots to crow about – namely, knocking General Motors (GM) off the throne as the top-selling automaker in the U.S. It’s the first time a foreign automaker has taken first place in America.

The company not only added that title to its resume, but it will hang on as the number one seller of electrified vehicles for the 22nd consecutive year. Its Toyota Camry, Highlander, RAV4, Sienna, Tacoma, and Lexus NX will also keep their trophies as the best-selling models in their respective segments. Toyota also earned the most Kelley Blue Book Awards in 2021, with its RAV4 named car of the year.

However, the short-term forecast is a bit cloudy. In 2021, the company sold 2,332,262 vehicles, 11.5% more per day than it did in 2020. However, it comes hobbling into 2022 with reports that its December U.S. 2021 sales were down 30.2% when compared to December 2020.

How Toyota pulled it off

Toyota – just like every other automotive company – had to live through supply chain knee-capping and a cataclysmic chip shortage in 2021, both of which were brought on by the pandemic. The difference for Toyota was that it just managed the situation better.

How? That’s the question ConsumerAffairs put to Bill Rieke, Adjunct Instructor for Supply Chain Management at the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

“Toyota, which is the automotive pioneer for ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing, has proactively moved away from this pure ‘lean’ management approach,” Rieke said. “Instead they have built resiliency into their production planning to be more like ‘just-in-case’ which has served them well during Covid-19 allowing them to have broader access to computer chips and other parts necessary to build and sell a complete car.”

Consumers frustrated by chip shortage

GM may have also made Toyota’s rise easier if consumer opinions count. Redell, of Farmington, Mich., recently chided the company for how it handled a situation when he brought in his Cadillac for service. 

“I was told by the Service Advisor that they have no vehicles for loaners due to the chip shortage. But furthermore I was told that I can go and rent a vehicle at Enterprise or whatever and then contact GM to see if I could be reimbursed,” Redell wrote

“As a frustrated customer I asked the Service Advisor [why] as a customer who has a bumper to bumper warranty, what if I don’t have the income to be able to rent a vehicle at this time. The Service Advisor had nothing to say.”

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