Toyota Still Biggest Automaker Despite Recalls

Toyota Motor said Monday its group sales in 2010 rose despite a global recall that damaged its brand image, enabling the firm to keep its top spot as world's biggest automaker.

Toyota's global sales rose eight percent on-year to 8.418 million vehicles, beating the 8.39 million vehicles sold by General Motors in 2010.

But after a year in which Toyota's worst crisis saw the recall of millions of vehicles, a wave of lawsuits and record fines, the company's troubles are far from over as it battles to regain consumer trust, say analysts.

"Being number one in term of sales is not important for us," Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco told Agence France Presse. "Our objective is to become number one with the customer, in term of service and customer satisfaction."

The Toyota group, including small car producer Daihatsu Motor and truck maker Hino Motors, saw its Japanese sales jump 10 percent while foreign sales rose seven percent.

Toyota Motor alone sold 7.528 million vehicles, up eight percent from the previous year.

Toyota's Prius hybrid broke the Japanese sales record for a single car model in 2010, helped by a popular government subsidy for green vehicles, according to a Japanese industry group.

But analysts warn that the full impact of the recall of more than eight million vehicles worldwide due to safety defects related to brake and accelerator issues may not yet be fully felt.

As criticism mounted of its slow response and bureaucratic inflexibility, Toyota tightened its recall policy and by November had pulled nearly 13 million vehicles over a range of issues.

The crisis prompted US congressional investigations as Toyota was hit with penalties totaling $48.8 million, including $16.4-million to settle claims it hid accelerator pedal defects blamed for fatal accidents.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the founder, went to the United States early in 2010 to speak before Congress and meet Toyota workers and dealers to apologize amid intense and critical media coverage.

The automaker had previously said it expected global sales to reach 8.61 million vehicles for 2011.

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