Mike Stevens | Jan 20, 2012

"When the General talks, you better listen to him," so say the lyrics to Midnight Oil's General Talks. With news this week that it is now back on top of the global sales ladder, General Motors has the industry's attention.

Three years after filing for bankruptcy and nearly two years after repaying US$5.8 billion in US and Canadian Federal Government loans, GM has reclaimed its crown as the world's number one carmaker - a crown it held for seven decades before losing it to Toyota in 2008.

The company announced this week that it sold 9.03 million vehicles worldwide last year, bettering Toyota's estimated 7.9 million.

Toyota slipped to fourth place in 2011, after Volkswagen AG announced global sales of 8.16 million and the Renault-Nissan alliance tallied 8.03 million.

Toyota's fall can be attributed in large part to the March earthquake in Japan which severely interrupted production and strangled supply. The Japanese carmaker expects to bounce back this year however, forecasting sales of 8.48 million in 2012 and close to nine million in 2013.

Volkswagen aims to hit 10 million annual sales by 2018.

GM's claim to the top spot has come under scrutiny from some industry analysts, pointing to the company's inclusion of sales figures from its Wuling joint venture in China.

GM does not hold a controlling interest in the company, and if the sales of its US$4400 light trucks were excluded, it is believed that Volkswagen AG would have topped sales in 2011.

Speaking at the Detroit Auto Show last week, GM CEO Dan Akerson said that the company is focused more on investing in new products and generating returns for shareholders, but strong sales figures are a solid indicator of the company's progress.

"You're not going to achieve the financial goals we want to achieve and have declining market share or declining numbers of units sold," he said. "So it's one indicator among many."

The challenge for GM will be in maintaining its position. Volkswagen and the Renault-Nissan alliance have been on the charge for sometime now, and a recovered Toyota will also be on the march back up the table.

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