The new year likely brings a new leader in global automotive sales, as Toyota Motor Corp. looks to surpass General Motors Corp. as the world’s top car company.

Toyota forecasts demand for its vehicles will rise 6%, spurring its worldwide vehicle sales to an estimated 9.34 million units. The Japanese car company predicts 2007 production will rise 4% to 9.42 million vehicles.

Such output and sales could beat GM, which delivered 9.15 million vehicles worldwide in 2005. GM has been the world’s sales leader for 81 years.

The Detroit auto maker has not yet issued its 2007 production or sales forecast, but is projected to make about 9.2 million vehicles by the close of 2006. GM has cut production this year in North America by more than 100,000 units, while reporting modest manufacturing increases in Asia and Latin America.

GM executives previously have admitted they would like the company to remain No.1 but say being the world’s volume is not necessary to return to profitability. Rather, the auto maker is moving forward on a plan to increase per-vehicle profits, in part by cutting production and reducing its reliance on money-losing incentives in North America.

scanderson@wardsauto.com