Toyota world #1 again

Japanese automaker Toyota has retaken the crown as the world's largest automaker.

Initial sales reports for 2012 so far suggest that the Japanese brand, which was badly hit by natural disasters last year, is now outselling American rival General Motors (GM).

Toyota was the world's largest automaker between 2008 and 2010, but lost its crown to GM after the Japanese earthquake and then flooding in Thailand seriously disrupted its production.

Now though, the brand is back on top, having sold 2.49 million between January and March, compared to 2.28 million by General Motors.

Volkswagen, the world's number three, sold 2.16 million, Bloomberg calculated.

Many observers consider Toyota to be in a better position now than it has been in years -- with global gas prices still high, demand for its fuel-efficient vehicles is soaring, especially for the Prius.

Demand for the model in the US alone is outpacing the prediction of 220,000 vehicles sold in 2012, Toyota said this week, with the Prius comfortably selling more in April than competitors such as the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt combined.

This week it unveiled its first all-electric vehicle, the RAV4 EV, at an electric vehicle show in Los Angeles.

The electrified SUV is a reprise of one of the world's first electric vehicles, the original RAV4 electric, with several new enhancements -- it's been developed with the help of leading electric automaker Tesla, and now features a 100 mile (160km) range and performance equivalent to the gas-powered RAV4.

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