After sliding into second place during the first half of 2015, Toyota regained its lead as the world’s best-selling automaker in the third quarter of the year, outpacing both Volkswagen AG and General Motors.
And, in light of VW’s ongoing diesel emissions crisis, few expect to see it pose a credible threat to Toyota’s dominance again, at least not anytime soon. GM seems unlikely to pose a strong challenge either, analysts said, especially in light of weakening sales in China.
Toyota reported sales Monday of 7.498 million vehicles for the first nine months of 2015. That was down about 1.5%, reflecting challenges in a number of markets. Nonetheless, it was enough to help the Japanese giant nudge past VW which reported sales of 7.43 million for the period.
VW had come on like a seemingly unstoppable force until recently. Recently ousted CEO Martin Winterkorn had set a goal of making the German carmaker the number one auto manufacturer in the world by 2018, but VW got there well ahead of that timetable – at least for the first half of 2015.
But its momentum ground to a halt in the third quarter. A variety of factors played a role, including the slowdown in China where Volkswagen has been the top-selling manufacturer. Then, in mid-September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that VW has cheat on diesel emissions tests. Among other things, that forced the company to put a halt on sales of key diesel products which, in the U.S., accounted for nearly a quarter of its overall sales.
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VW doesn’t expect to launch a fix for its small diesel engines until January, and the process could take much of 2016 to complete. But the scandal is already showing signs of having a broader impact on VW sales beyond its diesel models.
Some industry analysts have warned that the anticipated cost of the diesel scandal – from recalls repairs to government fines and class action suits – could force VW to pare back, even sell off some of its dozen brands.
As for General Motors, the maker remained in third place for the first three quarters of 2015, selling 7.2 million vehicles worldwide, a 1% decline. While demand has been solid in the U.S., and rebounding in Europe after more than a decade of declines, GM saw a sharp slide in sales in China, where it is the second-largest maker, behind Volkswagen.
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GM was the world’s largest automaker for seven decades, but lost its lead to Toyota in 2008. It regained the sales crown in 2011, Toyota crippled by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan. It took sales leadership back the following year, however.
It sold 10.23 million vehicles last year, but CEO Akio Toyoda has warned that global sales will be down slightly for all of 2015.
VW sales came in at 10.1 million last year, the maker offering a broad range of products: from entry-level brands like Skoda and Seat to ultra-lux manufacturers Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini.
GM finished 2014 with sales of 9.92 million vehicles worldwide.
(Honda puts new plant on hold as China market sales slide. Click Here for the story.)