Toyota Becomes First Foreign Auto Company to Top U.S. Sales

2021 was a difficult year for auto manufacturers who struggled to meet demand due to the ongoing global chip shortage and lingering impacts of Covid-19. Despite these issues, Toyota still managed to make history by unseating General Motors as the top-selling automaker in the United States last year, becoming the first manufacturer based outside the country to achieve that feat in the industry’s nearly 120-year history.

G.M., Ford Motor and Stellantis, the new automaker created by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, produced and sold fewer cars than they had hoped to in 2021 because they were hit hard by the chip shortage. In total, auto manufacturers sold fewer than 15 million new vehicles in 2021, according to estimates by Cox Automotive, which tracks sales reports in the industry. That is 2.5% more than in 2020, but well short of the 17 million vehicles the industry usually sold in a year before the pandemic took hold.

G.M. said on Tuesday that its U.S. sales slumped 13% in 2021, down to 2.2 million trucks and cars. By comparison, Toyota was not as negatively impacted due to them having access to more chips after they set aside larger stockpiles of parts after an earthquake and tsunami in Japan knocked out production of several key components back in 2011. As a result, its 2021 sales rose more than 10% to 2.3 million. Ford is expected to be the third-highest selling company once it releases its data.

“The dominance of the U.S. automakers of the U.S. market is just over,” said Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan who follows the auto industry. “Toyota might not beat G.M. again this year, but the fact that they did it is symbolic of how the industry changed. No U.S. automaker can think of themselves as entitled to market share just because they’re American.”