The contest to see which automaker is king of the global sales mountain ended today with Toyota declared the winner with 10.23 million vehicles sold in 2014.
Volkswagen, which is attempting to capture the crown by 2018, came in second with 10.14 million units sold: a 4% increase over 2013. General Motors, which had held the title for decades, is third place with 9.92 million, which is a 2% jump.
However, Toyota’s time atop the mountain is likely to end in 2015. The automaker predicted its global sales will drop in 2015 to 10.15 million units. While that may seem like an opportunity for VW to slide into the top spot this year, its U.S. sales have been sluggish.
Despite a loyal following, the company’s new Golf is a mid-level seller in America, although that could change as it’s garnered nearly a dozen awards heading into this year, including Motor Trend’s Car of the Year as well as North American Car of the Year given at the ongoing Detroit Auto Show.
However, the German maker has no new product in the pipeline for the U.S. until it’s new seven-passenger SUV hits in 2017. Fortunately, it has an ace in the hole: China. The maker is opening a new factory in Changsha, China, will add capacity for another 300,000 vehicles annually.
In theory, Toyota could drop all the way to third place if GM has a great 2015. GM’s U.S. sales rose last year, but short of a return to its heyday when it dominated U.S. marketshare, the Detroit-based maker’s run at the top is going to come from success in China.
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The company’s Buick brand is well liked in China and its sales are growing there, but the overall market growth in China is slowing down to just single digit growth.
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However, it has been aggressively expanding into other markets and seems to be turning the corner in Europe. If it could get a surprising year in any of those markets, it could reclaim the top spot.
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Among GM’s major launches are the new Opel Corsa, which arrives in European showrooms later this month and the Chevrolet Trax small crossover in the United States, which began arriving in showrooms in December 2014.
In addition, GM is increasing U.S. production of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups, which launched late last year. Launches in China include three Chevrolets, two Buicks and two Cadillacs.