A test of ego for Barra & Co. between profit and position

The end of 2021 is quickly approaching, and coming with it could be an interesting test of General Motors CEO Mary Barra’s oft-stated commitment to prioritize her company’s financial performance over empty-but-ego-gratifying bragging rights.

At issue is the very real possibility that Toyota Motor North America will finish the year as the top-selling automaker in the U.S., snatching a light-vehicle sales crown that GM captured from Ford Motor Co. 90 years ago and never relinquished — until perhaps this year.

Through three quarters, GM trails Toyota by about 90,000 light-vehicle sales in the U.S., an unprecedented situation brought about largely by the microchip and other supplier shortages that have rocked the entire industry this year on the production side and robbed it of precious new-vehicle inventory.

After skating through with minimal disruptions earlier this year, Toyota began announcing its own global production cuts in August when its main microchip suppliers in Asia fell prey to the spreading coronavirus delta variant.

Both Toyota and GM say they believe the worst of the chip crisis may be behind them, but the situation is so tenuous that neither automaker can make those statements definitively.

Toyota executives say that their current U.S. sales lead is likely temporary — tacit recognition by the Japanese company of GM’s once-dominant but eroded position — and both companies are reporting record profit levels, despite current difficulties.

But what happens at the end of the year if this unexpected “sales race” is still close?

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