Toyota's North American car output will surpass Chrysler's for the first time during the first quarter of 2009. The two companies' downward trajectories will soon cross, leaving Toyota as the third largest domestic producer behind Ford and General Motors.

Both Chrysler and Toyota are sharply cutting back their production, so it's a story of relative gain rather than absolute. Nevertheless, by building a planned 280,500 cars in Q1 2009, Toyota will outstrip Chrysler by over 20,000 units, reports Automotive News.

Those figures amount to a 31.8% decrease for Toyota and an even more dramatic 50.6% decrease for Chrysler. The differential in the cutbacks accounts for the flip-flop in rankings. Ford's 40.3% cutback slots between the two, and its 424,300 anticipated production beats General Motors 52.2% cutback to 419,100 vehicles by a fairly narrow margin.

The news is perhaps an optimistic spin on a nonetheless dire situation for Toyota. In 2008, the Japanese juggernaut has seen its first-ever operating loss and massive reduction in forecast sales.

Fellow Japanese carmakers Honda and Nissan have felt the pain of the global economic crunch too, dipping 34.9% and 30.8% in expected Q1 North American production, respectively.

The decline in fuel prices through the end of 2008 have hurt Toyota's - and the industry's - hybrid sales in particular. A brand-new Prius, launched at this year's Detroit Auto Show, hopes to turn that situation around by offering a new set of features, more power and more efficiency. Despite the optimism in the launch, the bleak outlook for 2009's sales figures may prove too strong to overcome.