Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, and Toyota Motor Corp., Asia’s biggest car company, are each saying they produced the best-selling car in the world in the first half. Their definitions are the key.

The Ford Focus was the world’s top-selling “single-car nameplate” — a vehicle sold under only one name — with 489,616 sold in the first six months of 2012, topping the Corolla’s 462,187, Ford said in statement that cited researcher IHS Automotive.

Toyota said its first-half Corolla sales total is 603,840, including Corolla derivatives such as the Matrix wagon sold in the U.S.

Auto companies use sales supremacy as a marketing tool to attract buyers.

Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has set a goal to boost global sales by 50 percent to 8 million vehicles by 2015. That goal has come under pressure as growth has slowed in China, and the European market has declined to its lowest level in 17 years.

“We are proud of the momentum and customer demand for the Ford Focus around the world,” Mark Truby, a company spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

In addition to the Matrix, the calculation by IHS left out sales of Toyota’s Auris, as the Corolla is known in Europe, and the Corolla Verso wagon that is sold in Japan, said Chris Hopson, a sales analyst for IHS. The researcher also excluded a Focus derivative, the C-Max wagon, from Ford’s total, he said.

Toyota has sold 722,000 Corolla units worldwide through July, said Mike Michels, a spokesman based in Torrance, California, where Toyota has its U.S. sales headquarters.

“Corolla Verso, Auris and Matrix have been consistently recognized and reported as Corollas in sales results,” Michels said in an email.

Toyota sold about 48,000 Auris models and 58,000 Corolla Versos in the first half, Hopson said.

“In the world of lies, damn lies and statistics, I’m sure Toyota is thinking this is one of those instances,” Hopson said in an interview. “The data we supplied to Ford was nameplate-level only, just Focus to Corolla.”

Ford’s European Focus sales were included in the count. The automaker introduced a redesigned version of the small car worldwide last year.

“The Focus is attracting many new customers to the Ford brand for the very first time, particularly in Asia,” Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief, said in a statement issued out of Thailand, where it was celebrating the production of the company’s 350 millionth vehicle, a Focus.

Ford, based in Dearborn, Michigan, is stepping up investments in Asia to tap demand from China to India after widening losses in Europe prompted the carmaker to cut its outlook in July for full-year profit. The company said it will bring its luxury Lincoln nameplate to China in the second half of 2014.

Toyota, rebounding from the lost production caused by last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, has taken the global sales lead back from General Motors Co. in the first half.

Corolla was the leader in first-quarter sales, at 300,800, followed by Focus with 277,000 and the Toyota Prius hybrid at 247,230 with an expanding line, according to sales figures provided by the companies at the time.

Toyota started selling a new version of the Corolla in Japan in May. It is the most popular car ever, with more than 39 million sold, said Curt McAllister, a spokesman.

Ford’s F-Series full-size pickup line has been the best-selling truck in the U.S. for 35 years and the best-selling model line for 30 years. It includes versions such as the F-150, F-250 and F-350.

While it would be difficult to quantify the value of being the top seller in a segment, it does help appeal to customers, said Ian Beavis, executive vice president of the global automotive group at Nielsen Holdings NV and a former sales and marketing executive at Ford, Kia Motors Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

“People in focus groups do say they justify purchases because a vehicle is popular,” Beavis said in a recent interview. “They like to belong to a successful group. It’s a psychological issue, and it works in reverse; because people will be suspicious of models that aren’t popular.”

New-car sales rise


Sales of new vehicles, including minivehicles, rose 12.4 percent in August from a year earlier to 370,777 units for an 11th consecutive monthly uptick, driven in part by subsidies for buying environmentally friendly vehicles, according to data released Monday by two auto industry bodies.

While sales of minivehicles, which have engines no larger than 660cc, hit a record high for August, the jump in new vehicle sales was much lower than July’s 37.5 percent, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association and the Japan Mini Vehicles Association.

Sales of new vehicles excluding minivehicles rose 7.3 percent in August to 232,372 units, with cars climbing 8.7 percent to 205,012 units.

However, sales of trucks edged down 0.4 percent to 26,529 units and those of buses plunged 31.8 percent to 831 units.

Minivehicle sales surged 22.1 percent to 138,405 units, including 110,779 minicars, up 30.9 percent.

An official at the dealers association said the surge demand expected just before the expiration of the subsidy program has not been seen.

The budget allocated for the subsidy program is expected to run out this month, and sales are likely to fall afterward, the association said.

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