RAYONG, Thailand - The stylish and nimble Ford Focus is on track to unseat Toyota's aging Corolla to become the world's top-selling car, according to Ford.
The company says it sold 489,616 Focus sedans and hatchbacks globally in the first half of 2012, besting the Corolla by almost 27,000.
The Focus has several advantages, says Aaron Bragman, an automotive industry analyst for IHS Global Insight. It is newer, features better handling and styling, has superior technology and a much nicer interior than the Corolla.
"I'd rank it superior to the Corolla in pretty much most ways," says Bragman.
But Toyota isn't conceding the title. It has disputed Ford's numbers, saying its car is still on top when you include Corollas sold under other names. Hatchback versions of the Corolla are sold as the Auris in Europe and Matrix in the U.S.
Toyota also sells the Corolla Verso, a van-like vehicle that Toyota has traditionally counted as a Corolla, says spokesman Mike Michels. Including all the models, Toyota sold 603,840 Corollas in the first half, beating the focus by about 114,000, Michels says
Toyota is working on a new version of the Corolla which is expected to go on sale next year, although the company hasn't made it official.
Ford made the announcement at its assembly plant in Rayong, which opened in May to build the Focus. The Thailand plant, which is one of Ford's most advanced, has the capacity to produce 150,000 cars per year for sale in Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and other countries in the region.
Ford's recently revamped Focus is sold in more than 100 countries worldwide. It's a strong seller in the U.S., where Focus sales were up 31 per cent in the first half of the year compared with 2011. But the Corolla is still king in the U.S., where it outsold the Focus by nearly 27,500 in the first half of the year.
The Corolla could still pass the Focus as the global top-seller this year, Bragman said. Toyota had few Corollas to sell at the start of the year because last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan slowed its factories. But now the car is back at full supply and selling well. Also, last year at this time the Focus was ahead of the Corolla, but the Corolla pulled through in the end, outselling the Focus by more than 100,000 vehicles.
"It might be a bit premature to declare a sales crown," Bragman said.
Also at the plant Friday, Ford executives were celebrating the production of the 350 millionth vehicle Ford has made since its founding 109 years ago.
AP Auto Writer Tom Krisher contributed to this report from Detroit.