Volkswagen captured the top global sales slot by replacing its lost diesel sales with new SUVs.

Volkswagen appears to have narrowly retained its sales crown for 2017, fending off assaults by both Toyota and the Renault-Nissan Alliance, based on preliminary sales numbers.

The German automaker sold 10.7 million vehicles worldwide, according to in-house estimates, ahead of Toyota’s 10.35 million. If the VW numbers hold up when a final tally is reported it would mark the second year in a row that it nudged past its Japanese rival. But the Renault-Nissan Alliance also closed the gap last year and could be poised to challenge both VW and Toyota in 2018.

Despite VW’s strong global performance, a senior U.S. sales executive has tendered his resignation due to weak demand in that critical market last month.

The German carmaker’s performance was buoyed by strong demand for its premium brands, including Audi and Porsche. And that translated into record revenues of 220 billion euros, or $263 billion, for the year, an all-time high that topped the 217 billion euro record set in 2016, according to the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. VW is expected to release official sales numbers late next week, with financial results to follow in February.

(GM sales top 4M in China for the first time. Click Here for the story.)

Toyota had been expecting the RAV4 to nudge the Camry aside and it happened.

Toyota, which had dominated the global sales charts for much of the past decade slipped into second place in 2016 and couldn’t manage enough momentum to catch its rival, closing the year at just 10.35 million vehicles. It is expecting to reach 10.5 million in 2018.

VW’s strong performance is all the more significant considering it is still feeling the impact of its diesel emissions scandal, the maker acknowledging it rigged two turbodiesel engines to illegally pass emissions tests. That has resulted in massive recalls and buybacks in the U.S. and other markets and has so far cost the carmaker more than $30 billion.

The impact was particularly severe in the U.S., where Volkswagen was forced to pull all of its diesel models off the market. At their peak, vehicles like the Jetta TDI accounted for more than 20% of the company’s American sales.

With two new SUV models added to its U.S. line-up last year VW managed to deliver a 5.2% upturn in sales, but demand collapsed last month, December numbers dipping 19 percent after another decline in November.

That led to the resignation of Ron Stach, senior vice president of sales for Volkswagen of America. He assumed that post in March 2016 amidst a shake-up of U.S. management resulting from the diesel scandal.

(Click Here for details about December and full-year 2017 auto sales.)

The new Nissan Rogue Sport offers nimbler handling for young drivers.

While VW has apparently locked down its sales crown for 2017, the maker can’t relax. Not only is Toyota looking to increase demand in 2018 but there’s the Renault-Nissan Alliance closing on it in the rearview mirror. The Franco-Japanese partnership actually took the global lead early in 2017 but preliminary reports indicate it finished the year in third place, with sales of around 9.6 million.

Renault and Nissan now include Mitsubishi in their sales tally after Nissan took control of the smaller Japanese automaker. Mitsubishi is still recovering from a series of scandals, including its acknowledgement that it had rigged Japanese fuel economy numbers for many years.

Creeping into fourth place for 2017 is General Motors. The carmaker had led the global sales sweepstakes for much of the previous century but fell out of first place as it entered bankruptcy protection at the beginning of the decade.

GM had been third in 2016 but the carmaker has been downsizing its global footprint, closing operations in Russia, India and South Africa and last year completing the sale of its European Opel/Vauxhall subsidiary to the PSA Group.

(To see more about automakers raising concern about 2018 sales, Click Here.)

That French carmaker, whose brands include Peugeot and Citroen, has also been climbing up the sales charts and is expected to get a big bump when it consolidates Opel/Vauxhall into its figures for 2018.

Don't miss out!
Get Email Alerts
Receive the latest Automotive News in your Inbox!
Invalid email address
Send me emails
Give it a try. You can unsubscribe at any time.