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Toyota Motor Corp.’s vehicle sales in North America eclipsed the 2 million mark in 2003 for the first time ever, the automaker said Sunday.

Toyota is also the first carmaker that is not part of the Big Three — General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler, the U.S. arm of DaimlerChrysler AG — to surpass this sales figure in the North American market.

Japan’s biggest automaker sold about 1.85 million units in the United States, some 165,000 in Canada and 10,000 in Mexico.

Toyota partly attributed the rise to the growing popularity of its sport utility vehicles as it sold 100,000 more SUVs in the U.S. in 2003 than in the previous year.

In Canada, sales of Corolla cars were also robust during 2003, it said.

The firm’s worldwide sales for the year have not yet been tallied, it said.

But the figure will be closely watched as it will indicate whether Toyota overtakes Ford as the world’s second-largest automaker in terms of global sales. GM has long retained the world’s top spot.

Prius car of the year

DETROIT (Kyodo) The Prius, a hybrid car produced by Toyota Motor Corp., was chosen the 2004 Car of the Year in North America by a group of auto journalists.

About 50 American and Canadian journalists voted to give the award to the new Prius model, marking the first time a hybrid vehicle combining a gasoline engine with an electric motor has received the title.

It is also the first time a Toyota vehicle has won.

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