TOKYO — Toyota has bounced back from safety recalls and natural disasters, selling 4.97 million vehicles globally in the first half of 2012 to retake its crown as the world's top automaker from General Motors.
The Japanese company sold about 300,000 more cars and trucks than GM did in the first half of the year, a lead large enough to make it difficult for GM to catch Toyota in the year's final six months.
GM said it sold 4.67 million vehicles during the first half. Both companies released their numbers Wednesday.
For Toyota, the numbers underline a powerful rebound from a period of dismal sales and the resilience of its brand as it gains traction in new markets such as China and Southeast Asia while clawing back lost U.S. market share.
Both companies have said in the past that they don't care about being the global sales leader and are focused on making profits. But the crown is a matter of corporate pride for both automakers.
GM doesn't plan to drop out of the race, though. The company's sales and market share grew in China, and Chevrolet, its largest brand, has seen record growth for seven straight quarters, spokesman Jim Cain said.
"We are in the early days of the most aggressive rollout of new products in our history, which will help us press our advantage in the U.S. and China and grow profitably around the world," he said, declining to comment on whether the company expects to pass Toyota in the second half.
Toyota's production was hit by the earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan last year and then by flooding in Thailand, an important production base for the automaker. Before those disasters, its sales were dented by massive U.S. safety recalls, totaling more than 14 million vehicles since the quality control problems emerged three years ago.
But the company's factories and sales recovered faster than expected, making it very hard for GM to catch Toyota between now and the end of the year, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at the LMC Automotive consulting firm in Troy, Mich.
Also, GM has a bigger presence than Toyota does in Europe, where auto sales have fallen dramatically, and in China, where the economy is starting to slow, Schuster said.
Volkswagen was in third place in the global sales race. The company said this month that it sold 4.45 million vehicles in the first half. It came in second after GM in global vehicle sales last year.