Ford, Toyota both claim to have top-selling car


For the second time in seven months, Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co. both claim to produce the world’s top-selling car. The clash shows how counting in the global automotive industry is complicated.

Ford said Tuesday that its Focus compact was the leading global nameplate with 1.02 million sales last year, citing R.L. Polk & Co. data that pegged Toyota’s Corolla deliveries at 872,774. Toyota replied with a statement later the same day that claimed it sold 1.16 million Corollas.

Determining which company is correct isn’t clear-cut. Tuesday’s dispute followed a similar spat in August, when Ford claimed a six-month global sales lead for the Focus and cited IHS Automotive data that excluded some derivatives of the Corolla — such as the Matrix in the U.S., the Auris in Europe and the Verso in Japan. Analysts also calculate global sales differently on the basis of autos sold by joint-venture partners.

“There’s no simple answer here — it’s basically for bragging rights, so you define it however you like to suit your purposes,” said Alan Baum, principal of Baum & Associates, an auto consulting firm in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “Suffice to say these are both global models that are extremely popular and whose sales are likely to grow as the volumes in developing countries increase.”

The differing tallies emerged as Ford and General Motors Co. revamp their U.S. car offerings to win sales in segments dominated for decades by Toyota and Honda Motor Co.

The Fusion, Ford’s midsize sedan that was redesigned last year, is gaining ground on Toyota’s Camry, the top-selling U.S. car for 11 straight years. The Camry held a lead over the Fusion of 100,830 to 80,558 after the first quarter.

Erich Merkle, Ford’s U.S. sales analyst, reiterated Wednesday that the Focus was the “best-selling nameplate,” and that the 1.02 million figure “is a pure number that is verified by a third party.”

R.L. Polk is unable to provide data on global sales by nameplate beyond what Ford has released, said Michelle Culver, a spokeswoman for the firm who works for Lambert, Edwards & Associates. The Southfield, Michigan-based firm’s global reporting typically lags by three to four months because it tracks more than 80 markets worldwide.

“Toyota sold 1.16 million Corolla nameplate vehicles globally in 2012,” Mike Michels, the carmaker’s U.S. vice president of communications, said late Tuesday. “Corolla registrations attributed to (R.L.) Polk come up short by nearly 300,000 units. This discrepancy is glaring and we have requested clarification.”

Ford’s F-Series pickup line was the No. 3 nameplate worldwide last year, behind the Focus and Corolla, while the U.S. automaker’s Fiesta subcompact ranked No. 6, according to the R.L. Polk data released by Ford.