For two years now, I've been beating the drum about what a great car company Toyota (NYSE:TM) is. Today, in The Motley Fool's first Motley Fool CAPS competition amongst international stocks, I intend to make the case that it's the best company, period, for your international investing dollars.

Let's begin with the obvious. Over the last few years, as the U.S. auto industry flailed, missed out on the hybrid revolution, and saw some of its most important parts manufacturers fall into bankruptcy, Toyota's stock has doubled in value. Nearly every week brings news of another Toyota assembly plant being set up in America's heartland, a ramping-up of Prius production, or the introduction of a new challenge to Detroit's profitable full-size pickup truck franchises. But that's just anecdotal. To get an accurate picture of what's happening, let's look at some numbers.

Here's how the major automakers stood, by overall U.S. market share, at the end of 2004, at the end of last year, and at last report:

December 2004

December 2005

October 2006

General Motors (NYSE:GM)




Ford (NYSE:F)












Honda (NYSE:HMC)








The trends are plain to see. With the exception of DaimlerChrysler, whose market share has been holding relatively steady at just shy of 15%, Detroit's Big Three are in terrible shape. They're losing money, and market share, as Honda and Nissan creep up the rankings -- and Toyota rushes ahead. This year, in fact, Toyota took over the title of "third largest U.S. car maker" from DaimlerChrysler. (And for those who argue that Toyota isn't a "U.S. car maker," well, feel free to argue. But from my point of view, with GM opening shops in China and Ford in Mexico, Toyota's 10 U.S.-based factories, building 1 million cars per annum here, give it as much a right to the title as anyone.)

More than just cars
But as oversimplified as the term "U.S. car maker" has become, even calling Toyota a "car maker" is beginning to seem like an oversimplification -- because the company is becoming so much more. Last year, for example, in "Riding Robots to Riches", I described how Toyota is at the forefront of yet another long-term, high-tech trend -- not hybrids this time, but robots.

In July of last year, Toyota announced its intention to increase the use of industrial robots in its assembly lines, putting them in place of human workers in the most dangerous parts of the car-making process -- and saving on salaries, health-care costs, and workers' compensation claims in the process.

While this shares the "car-making" theme that has defined Toyota for decades, it also plays into the newest Toyota story, that of a company that plans to market a line of consumer robots for use in factories, in health care, and as exoskeletons for paraplegics. This side of Toyota makes the firm look less like a competitor to Detroit's Big Three, and more like a better-heeled rival to such rule-breaking companies as robotic medicine firm Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) and dust-bunny buster iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT).

Viewed as a car company, Toyota enjoys a premium valuation in comparison to its car-company peers. Its forward P/E ratio of 14 exceeds that of every one of the other automotive majors, with the exception of DaimlerChrysler (whose third-place throne it just stole) and Ford (whose unprofitable status gives it a P/E of infinity). But arguably, Toyota deserves the premium here because it's also more profitable than any of its competitors. Meanwhile, viewed as the best-capitalized company in the field of robotics, Toyota's P/E ratio looks more than reasonable when compared to the 40 P/E accorded to Intuitive and the 87 P/E that iRobot commands.

In short, dear Fools, this is a case of two parts of the company making for one very attractive whole. Attractive enough to win the title of best international stock for 2007? That's a question only you can decide. To cast your vote, just go to Motley Fool CAPS and tell us whether you think Toyota will "underperform" or "outperform" the market over the course of the next year. It's as simple as that.

For more coverage on our search for the best international stock for 2007, click here.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any of the companies mentioned in this article. If he did, The Motley Fool would require him to tell you so. We're sticklers about things like that . iRobot and Intuitive Surgical are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks.