Toyota boosted group global sales 6% to 9.37m units last year, prompting speculation it might have beaten General Motors.

The Associated Press (AP) said GM has not yet released its annual sales tally - it has announced results for Europe - but earlier estimated 2007 sales would come to 9.3m.

Counting in its Daihatsu minicar and Hino truck unit's sales, Toyota said it increased overseas sales 7% to 10.1m while domestic volume was off 4% to 2.26m.

Toyota brand sales rose 6% to 8.43m with overseas sales up 10% to 6.84m and domestic sales off 6% to 1.59m.

Toyota is forecasting group sales of 9.85m this year, up 5%.

AP said General Motors has fiercely fought back, boosting its overseas business and could still keep the top industry spot, which it has held for 76 years, though analysts say its just a matter of time before Toyota beats GM to become the biggest automaker in global sales.

The news agency noted that Toyota executives consistently brush off questions about becoming No. 1. Some company officials acknowledge they are even nervous about wresting the honours because of fears about a US backlash reminiscent of the "Japan-bashing" in the 1980s and 90s, when the nation was accused of taking jobs from American workers.

When asked recently by The Associated Press how he felt about becoming the world's biggest automaker, Shoichiro Toyoda, a member of the founding family and former Toyota president, even denied Toyota was becoming No. 1. "We are not No. 1," he said, adding that the spot may be transient and hinting it may hold little meaning for an automaker.

GM holds the industry record in annual global vehicle sales with 9.55m vehicles it sold in 1978, AP added.