Toyota Just Toppled GM as America’s Best-Selling Carmaker

Toyota tops many automotive lists. Even if one of the brand’s vehicles doesn’t take the number-one spot, the Japanese automaker often boasts the most well-reviewed vehicles. And now, Toyota has done it again, this time by beating General Motors in U.S. sales. 

Toyota recently edged out GM in U.S. sales

A lighted red Toyota logo on a car dealership in San Jose, California, in November 2019
Toyota toppled GM for the first time in U.S. sales | Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

GM might not top the most critics’ lists, but it’s had one big thing going for it over the years. General Motors had remained the top-selling U.S. automaker since Ford edged it out in 1998. That’s nearly 23 years at the top of the American car market. But that changed last quarter. 

It wasn’t an easy win for Toyota, and it was a close race. “Toyota sold 688,813 vehicles during the second quarter, topping GM’s sales of 688,236 vehicles,” CNBC reported. That means Toyota beat General Motors by a mere 813 vehicles. 

But the real question is, how did this happen? The answer is surprising.

How did Toyota beat General Motors?

Toyota has a well-established reputation for building reliable vehicles, but that wasn’t what helped it become the best-selling carmaker in America. It actually boiled down to availability. It’s no secret that the chip shortage has been wreaking havoc on some automakers, and this is a prime example of it.

General Motors could not produce as many vehicles as it had predicted, thanks to the chip shortage. It has lowered production across the board for many automakers, and GM is not the only one feeling the pain.

Though the chip shortage also affected Toyota, the carmaker managed to push out more vehicles than GM and, thus, brought in more sales. Jessica Caldwell, an executive director of insights at Edmund, told CNBC this was largely due to Toyota doing a better job of managing its inventory.

The RAV4 and Camry really helped the Japanese automaker’s sales

Love it or hate it, the Camry is one of Toyota’s top-selling models. It frequently lands atop many best-of lists and has a stellar reputation. Though the pandemic harmed 2020 car sales, the Camry is back, and sales are hotter than ever.

According to GoodCarBadCar, the Camry is having one of the best years it’s seen in a long time. Just one look at the second quarter reveals that 99,520 units sold. That’s the most Camry models sold in the United States since 2016, when it sold 103,516 units. But the Camry wasn’t alone in scoring Toyota its victory over GM.

The RAV4 also played a major role. It may not be the king of the off-roaders, but thanks to its affordable price and wide range of trims, the Toyota RAV4 remains wildly popular among consumers. It also helps that Toyota is expanding into eco-friendly vehicles by offering hybrid and plug-in hybrid RAV4 models. 

According to GoodCarBadCar, the RAV4 actually outsold the Camry in the second quarter of 2021. The compact crossover SUV sold 106,940 units, compared to the Camry’s 99,520. Though impressive, this number is still low compared to 2019, when the RAV4 sold an astonishing 116,790 units.  Even though it wasn’t a record-breaking number for the RAV4, the Q2 2021 sales were still quite a feat and helped contribute to Toyota’s sales win over GM.

Third-quarter numbers won’t be in until September, but GM will doubtless want to take back its lead. Whether that happens remains to be seen, and many factors are out of their control. Either way, it will make for an interesting showdown.

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