General Motors Corp. vowed to protect its position as the worlds largest automaker despite a strong challenge from Toyota Motor Corp.

‘I am not conceding anything to anybody,’ Richard Wagoner, GMs chairman and chief executive officer, said Tuesday in response to reports that Toyota planned to boost its global production to 9.06 million units next year.

That figure is just shy of GMs forecasted production of 9.08 million vehicles and analysts said it is only a matter of time before the Japanese automaker overtakes struggling U.S. rival General Motors in auto production.

‘Toyota always uses conservative figures so it can make sure it achieves the goals it sets,’ BNP Paribas Securities analyst Yasuhiro Matsumoto said.

‘Toyota will soon catch up with GM next year just by growing at its current pace.’ The Japanese automakers announcement of its 2006 objectives came on the heels a new sales forecast from J.D. Power & Associates that indicated GM was likely to continue to lose market share in December.

It also came hours before billionaire Kirk Kerkorian’s Tracinda Corp said in a securities filing that it had sold 12 million shares of GM last week, reducing its stake in the automaker to 7.8 percent from 9.9 percent.

Shares of GM fell to an 18-year low on the days news, closing down 5.7 percent at 19.85 dollars.

For decades, being number one has been a critical part of GM’s corporate identity and has helped drive the companies operations. However, as the companies steadily declining market share in North America worsened this year, speculation has been mounting about when Toyota would surpass GM to become the worlds top automaker.

In an attempt to help stem multibillion dollar losses, GM announced plans last month to cut 30,000 jobs and close nine manufacturing and assembly plants over the next three years.

GM said in a statement released accompanying Wagoners remarks that over the past decade, the automaker has become a far leaner, more competitive company operationally.

‘We are more globally integrated and better able to take advantage of our size and resources around the world. We’re focusing much of our energies on the highest potential growth markets around the world, such as China and Brazil, where we have been very successful,’ the GM statement added.

Wagoner also said in a recent interview with AFP that the production of GMs new Korean subsidiary is continuing to grow and could top 700,000 units this year. In addition, GM and its partners also are adding capacity in China, he noted.

Recently, the company sold its 1 millionth vehicle in the Asia Pacific region to Thailand’s former ambassador to Washington, D.C. who now lives in Bangkok.

Toyota’s foothold in China is smaller, according to sales statistics from what has become the worlds fastest growing automotive market. Toyota, however, has a strong presence throughout Asia.

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