Toyota Motor Corp. passed General Motors Corp. in worldwide vehicle sales last year because GM incorrectly included microvan and other sales from a Chinese affiliate in its sales, an industry publication reported.
But GM says it has always reported sales from its stake in the SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. and that its figures are accurate.
Automotive News said in Monday's edition that Toyota sold 8,808,000 vehicles last year, compared with GM's 8,679,860.
GM, however, reported earlier this year that it sold 9.09 million vehicles worldwide in 2006.
The difference of just over 420,000 vehicles is SAIC-GM-Wuling's sale of microvans and other vehicles, said Anne Wright Curtis, and assistant managing editor at Automotive News.
The SAIC-GM-Wuling sales don't count because GM doesn't own more than 50 percent of the company, she said. Automotive News includes sales from a division of the company if it owns more than a 50 percent stake, Wright Curtis said.
Automotive News counted sales of the Chevrolet Spark car made by Wuling because they were sold as Chevrolets, she said.
According to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, GM owns 34 percent of SAIC-GM-Wuling. China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. owns a 51 percent stake in Wuling.
GM said China requires quasi-government ownership of more than 50 percent of joint ventures.
"We own a majority of the legally available shares of the company. It's completely integrated in our China strategy," GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said. "That's why we count them."
Aaron Bragman, a research analyst at Troy-based Global Insight, said the race to be coined the world's top-selling automaker has little bearing on GM's efforts to improve its financial performance. He said GM's sales slide has been influenced by losses in the North American market and moving away from low-profit quantity fleet sales in favor of a more balanced, profitable approach of quality sales.
Losing the crown as the world's largest automaker could even end up benefiting GM, he said.
"There's nothing more motivational than losing your top stop," Bragman said. "If it's going to take that to motivate the troops more than anything has already, I think it’s a boon to the company."
Toyota said in April it sold 2.35 million vehicles worldwide in the January-March period, surpassing the 2.26 million vehicles GM sold in the quarter, according to preliminary figures.
GM, which has been the world's largest automaker for 76 years, saw its U.S. sales decline 5.5 percent through the first quarter. Toyota, meanwhile, had sales increases of 11.2 percent in the key market, helped by consumer interest in fuel-efficient vehicles.
The title of the world's No. 1 automaker depends on annual worldwide vehicle production, rather than sales, so that distinction won't be determined until production numbers are released for the entire year.