UPDATE: It turns out GM may not have edged Toyota out at all - in fact, GM may be the No. 2 auto maker in the world for the first time in 76 years if the most recent reports on sales numbers prove accurate. According to Automotive News the American company's earlier totals of 9.369 million vehicles sold included over 500,000 vehicles produced in China as Wuling-branded vehicles. Because GM only owns a minority stake (34%) in the SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co., industry standards prevent those vehicles from being included in GM's corporate tally. Therefore, it now looks like Toyota is leading the world with its unofficial count of 9.366 million vehicles sold, a staggering lead over GM's adjusted figures of 8.885 million. An official final number is expected from Toyota some time next month.

ORIGINAL: Dominance in the U.S. market no longer ensures dominance in the global market, as even the leading American auto makers have been selling more vehicles outside the U.S. than inside it for several years. Nevertheless, the U.S. still buys more cars than any other single market in the world, and sales there are important to global success. Perhaps that’s why Toyota’s rise in the U.S. market coincided with its very close run at dethroning GM as the world’s leading auto seller in 2007.

GM reported its sales figures today as 9.369million vehicles, while Toyota’s previous figure of 9.37million vehicles was further refined today by a source within the company to 9.366million vehicles, giving GM the win in global sales by just 3,000 vehicles. That margin constitutes less than 0.0004% difference between the two giants. In fact, sources at GM remarked that they were so focused on the actual job of selling vehicles that they still aren’t certain who grabbed the No. 1 rank, reports Automotive News.

Driving the booming sales – it was GM’s second-best year ever – were sales in so-called ‘developing’ markets. Places like China, Russia and Brazil were the primary sources of new market sales. GM’s sales in China set a record by exceeding 1million vehicles for the first time, while the company’s sales in Russia numbered 248,000. Purchases in Brazil helped to drive Latin American, African and Middle East sales (calculated together) up by 19.4%.

An interesting trend, and one to watch through 2008, is the rise of Toyota’s market share in the U.S. while GM’s declines. If both makers continue on their current trend of global growth, GM will expand sales by 1.5% in 2008 – despite the U.S. market – and Toyota will grow by more than 7%. That would put Toyota in the top spot for global sales. Combined with the trend in the U.S. market, Toyota could see 2008 or 2009 be the year when they finally dethrone GM for good, both at home and abroad.

GM, however, is not going to take Toyota’s growth lying down. Plans to integrate Saab more deeply into its production process, and focusing on the Malibu and CTS in North America, GM thinks it has a plan that will keep it in the No. 1 spot through 2008. The Chevrolet Traverse and Pontiac G8, due out later this year, are also hoped to bring extra sales. And if GM’s forecast of a U.S. economic upswing in the second half of 2008 holds true, they may just have what it takes to hold Toyota at bay – at least for 2008.