Toyota isn’t quite ready to bill itself as the world’s second-largest carmaker, and for good reason, Associated Press (AP) reported.

A few weeks after it appeared Toyota had surpassed Ford as the second largest global carmaker in terms of sales, the Japanese company reportedly says the designation depends on how sales are calculated.

According to AP, what makes the matter difficult to settle is that carmakers in Japan typically count sales differently than their US counterparts – the nuts and bolts of which both sides reportedly said was too complicated to explain.

Toyota last month reported global sales of 6.78 million vehicles for 2003, more than Ford’s total of 6.72 million, which would put the Japanese carmaker ahead of Ford and behind only General Motors in worldwide volume.

According to Associated Press, this past week, however, Toyota reported another worldwide sales number, 6.49 million, that spokesman Dan Sieger said represents a fairer comparison to Ford’s 2003 number. Sieger said the second figure is based on US-based accounting methods.

So, who’s No. 2? AP asked.

“I’m totally confused by the numbers that are floating around,” George Pipas, Ford’s top sales analyst, told the news agency, adding that the ranking was not nearly as important to his company as increasing sales and profitability.

According to AP, Ford last month reported a profit of nearly half a billion dollars for 2003, after two years in which it lost a combined $6.4 billion, but its global sales slipped 3.6% last year.

Last week Toyota reported a 60% increase in profit in the most recent quarter, despite a surging yen that makes overseas sales less valuable when converted into yen and a domestic market that’s been weighed down by uncertainties about the economy and employment.

Toyota said last week its North American retail vehicle sales topped two million for the first time in 2003 and raised its vehicle sales forecast for the current fiscal year yet officials have made a point of downplaying a change in global rankings.

“We have so much more to learn,” Toyota president Fujio Cho told reporters recently, AP said. “If this were a marathon, we’re so far behind we still can’t see Ford’s back.”