Toyota Beat GM as America’s #1 Automaker for the First Time Ever in 2021

The Japanese car manufacturer bested GM by more than 100,000 units, ending its 89-year reign at the top.

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Toyota Beat GM as America’s #1 Automaker for the First Time Ever in 2021 © Toyota Beat GM as America’s #1 Automaker for the First Time Ever in 2021

Making cars in 2021 was far from easy—anyone in the business will tell you so. That's especially true if you talk to somebody at General Motors, the company whose 89-year reign as the United States' top-selling automaker just came to an end. In a somewhat surprising series of manufacturing (and sales) events, Toyota has usurped GM by moving 2.3 million cars in America compared to the domestic auto giant's 2.2 million.

GM released its year-end sales numbers on Tuesday afternoon, confirming what many thought would be the case when Toyota dropped its total just a few hours prior. While it'd be inaccurate to chalk up this switcharoo to one single plant closure, the fact that GM battled so many throughout the year undoubtedly played a part. Meanwhile, Toyota had a stockpile of semiconductor chips going into 2021, and even though it eventually ran out, it was able to supply dealers well enough to displace GM at the top.

Toyota was carried to its final number of 2,332,262 units on the back of strong Camry, Tacoma, and Corolla sales. The first of those three accounted for 313,795 models sold in the U.S., marking a strong 6.6 percent volume increase. Meanwhile, the Tacoma midsize pickup broke the quarter-million mark with 252,520 sales, up 5.7 percent. Finally, since Toyota sold 248,993 Corollas here last year, the small sedan saw a solid 5 percent surge in sales.

The grass wasn't so green at GM, which ended 2021 with 2,218,228 units sold across all its brands in the U.S. It would've been bleaker had the GMC Yukon, Chevy Tahoe, and Chevy Suburban not enjoyed a combined 26 percent increase; the same can be said for the Cadillac Escalade, which saw sales shoot up 65 percent. Sales of the Chevy Silverado 1500 tanked 12.7 percent, though, while the Tacoma-rivaling Chevy Colorado fell an even steeper 24.1 percent. 

Taking 2021 at face value would be a mistake. Just look at all the uncontrollable variables that have car companies rethinking just-in-time manufacturing. But it showed how Toyota's preparedness paid off in one of its most important markets, and it's aiming even higher in 2022.

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