Will 2003 will go down in history as the year in which a seismic shift occurred in automobile history? Or simply as a flash in the pan?

Foot on the floorboards, Japanese car giant Toyota roared past Ford Motor Company of the USA last year to become the world's second largest automaker with an estimated 6.78 million vehicle sales. Ford, on the other hand, sagged 3.6% to sell 60,000 units less than its oriental rival.

But Toyota is not yet in sight of General Motors' flaming exhaust, still a mere flicker on the horizon. Despite a 0.3% sales slippage, the world number one sold 8.6 million vehicles worldwide.

Although it purports not to be eyeing the world number one slot, Toyota's declared strategy is to boost global market share to 15% from 10% within fifteen years. If successful, this would likely propel Toyota past the checkered flag.

But a spokesman for the Japanese giant was demureness personified. "We're not aiming for any specific sales ranking," he insisted, adding that each of the Detroit Big Three is still larger than Toyota if affiliate sales are included.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff