NAGOYA, Japan: Automaking titan Toyota Motor is expecting to overtake General Motors as the world's number one vehicle manufacturer in 2007- its 70th anniversary year.

The company is forecasting it will see a record 9.42 million vehicles roll off its production lines next year, a 4% rise that will see it pull away from Detroit-based GM. Toyota expects to sell 9.34m vehicles, up from 8.8m in 2006.

Through November, its US sales have gained 12.5%, compared with an 8.2% drop for GM. Worldwide, the Toyota group increased sales 8% to 6.61m vehicles in the first nine months of 2006, compared with GM's 6.89m units.

The carmaker expects net income to rise 13% percent to ¥1.55 trillion ($13bn, €9.8bn; £6.6bn)) in the year ending March 31 - a record for any Japanese company.

Asked about the possibility of passing GM, company president Katsuaki Watanabe comments: "That would merely be a result, not a goal. The important thing is to be a leader in car-making, and that's done by improving products."

As the Japanese firm woos buyers worldwide with cars seen as safe, affordable and fuel efficient, GM and Ford Motor Company are battling falling market share, closing factories and shedding thousands of jobs.

Soaring fuel prices have contributed to their troubles in no small measure as customers shun gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks in favour of cheaper-to-run models from Japanese and South Korean car makers.

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff