• The Associated Press

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Toyota Motor Corp. became the world’s top auto seller in the first three months of the year, passing rival General Motors Corp. for the first time, Japan’s biggest automaker said Tuesday.

Toyota sold 2.35 million vehicles worldwide in the January-March quarter, company spokesman Satoshi Yamaguchi said, surpassing the 2.26 million vehicles that GM said it sold during the same period.

The results mark the first time Toyota has beat GM in global sales on a quarterly basis, he said.

While the figures represent only quarterly sales results, they foreshadow a tough challenge for GM as it fights to hold onto its title as the world’s top automaker — a claim usually staked on annual production figures.

Toyota has been gaining steadily on GM in recent years and analysts had been saying it is only a matter of time before it eclipsed its Detroit-based rival, which has seen its market share shrink in the United States even as it leads sales in China, a market with tremendous potential.

While GM has struggled to shore up earnings with job cuts and plant closures, Toyota has expanded rapidly, thanks partly to the popularity of its fuel-efficient cars.

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