It's been three years and the Bush Depression since General Motors could claim to be the world's best-selling automaker. Before that, some 70 years had passed since there was another #1 car-and-truck-seller in the world besides GM.
But they can wear that crown now, and Toyota once again takes a back seat to The General.
GM said last Thursday that it sold 9.025 million vehicles in 2011. That would put it first among global carmakers, ahead of upstart Volkswagen, with sales of 8.015 million, according to the New York Times and Forbes. Toyota has yet to announce their 2011 sales but we do know they intend to make about 9 million vehicles this year.
With many factories, transportation and assembly points shut down for months by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and with Thai supplier factories also crippled, it was simple to predict Toyota sales in 2011, which the company says, according to Forbes, are in the 7.9 million range.
All this sales ballyhoo used to have real meaning. Certainly most Americans, even today, would not argue that it's a bad thing that GM has regained the sales crown. And certainly the White House, which spent $82 billion (our $82 billion) on the auto industry bailout, will find a place to mention GM's dominance in most every speech President Obama will make leading up to the election. And I think they'll be right to do so.
But with the auto business possibly the most inter-connected of all worldwide industries, buying a car because it is "Made in America" is a gamble at best. There are so many parts imported to North American factories (which is how they count "American" these days -- the term now includes Mexico and Canada) and so many parts made in the U.S. by foreign-owned outfits that figuring out where a car or light truck was made is, for many buyers, more trouble than it is worth.
And with Toyota, Honda and Nissan running advertising which makes them seem more like apple pie, hot dogs, your spouse and baseball than even the virtuous Chevrolet, it gets even more confusing.
Does it matter to you where a car or truck is made? Do you feel good that General Motors is back in the #1 spot? Or, like most people, are you just more concerned with buying a car which has working air conditioning, a good stereo and will get you home late at night at a rate somewhere north of 30 miles per gallon?
And judging by the fact that the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are the top two best-selling cars in the nation, that's exactly what people are looking for. Certainly not for any driving excitement.