Toyota this week officially overtook the ailing General Motors to become the world’s largest automaker. Both companies saw sales declines in 2008, but Toyota’s 8.97 million vehicles sold bested its U.S. rival by about 620,000. GM was the globe’s undisputed auto-king for 77 years.

solar prius

The 2010 Prius’ solar roof.
Photo courtesy of Toyota.

Sales of Toyota’s hybrid models dropped by 45 percent in December 2008, but the carmaker might win customers back with the 2010 Prius, which boasts 50+ mpg fuel efficiency, rooftop solar panels, three different drive modes to minimize fuel consumption, and LED headlights.

Meanwhile, Toyota announced Tuesday that it would launch a Certified Used Hybrid program.

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In other auto news …

• Fiat agreed to take a 35 percent stake in Chrysler, which prompted speculation from media types that small, full-efficient, Italian-leathered, pentastar-bedecked coupes would be heading our way soon.

• Aptera announced Wednesday that pre-production of the all-electric Aptera 2e is complete. The Carlsbad, Calif.-based automaker said it will begin full production and delivery of the aerodynamic, futuristic, 100+ miles-per-gallon-tastic tricycle in October of 2009.

• Shelby claims it will produce the fastest electric vehicle.

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• What happens to all those unsold cars? They go to the races, says Jalopnik (cool photos).

• Now that the Detroit Auto Show is behind us, we can look forward to the green themes at the Geneva industry gathering in March, along with the debut of the first open-source car, spearheaded by the German design firm EDAG. Then in May, Bright Automotive, Amory Lovins’ new car company, will introduce its first vehicle to the world at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Norway.

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