Ford (F) surpassed one million annual Focus sales for the first time last year as demand for fuel-efficient vehicles grew and U.S. cars began outpacing Japanese rivals.

More than 1.02 million compact Focus cars were sold worldwide in 2012, outpacing Toyota’s (TM) Corolla, of which close to 873,000 were sold, according to data compiled by Polk and released early on Tuesday.

Ford’s F-Series pickup truck, which has been the top-ranked U.S. pickup for close to four decades, rounded out the top three with 785,630 sales. The Fiesta, with more than 723,000 sold, came in sixth on the list, making it the world’s best-selling subcompact car.

The Ford cars all appeared before any vehicles from Honda (HMC), whose Civic and CR-V rounded out the top 10 with 651,000 and 625,000 cars sold, respectively.

The Detroit automaker attributed the improvement to strong demand in China and the U.S., with sales of what it dubs its “super segment,” which includes passenger cars ranging from sub-compacts to sedans, driving growth along the coasts of California, Texas and Florida. The segment makes up about two-thirds of Ford’s total sales.

In a statement, Jim Farley, Ford’s executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service and Lincoln, said the company's global products resonated with customers, especially in the “best-selling, most competitive segments” amid their fuel efficiency and high quality.  

“Since its launch in China in late March of last year, Focus sales continue to strengthen, with the car now ranking as the best-selling passenger car in China in 2012 for the first time ever,” Farley said.

Ford announced plans last September to begin manufacturing the 2013 Fusion in an existing plant in Flatrock, Mich., to address the stronger-than-expected Fusion demand. The company, which also makes the car at an at-capacity plant in Mexico, invested $555 million to upgrade the plant and added some 1,200 new jobs so that it could ramp up production.

Ford said the additional capacity has provided an opportunity to further strengthen its hold of the small-car market globally in 2013. Sales are “off to a very strong start already,” Farley said, with the Detroit automaker last week posting its strongest March sales in nearly six years.

Shares of Ford ticked slightly higher premarket to $12.86.

Follow Jennifer Booton on Twitter at @Jbooton