Volkswagen said earlier this month it sold 7.40 million vehicles for January-September, barely edging out General Motors Co. in the closely watched auto sales race. GM reported sales of 7.372 million cars and trucks worldwide earlier this month.
Japanese automaker Toyota was in first place in the first half with sales of almost 5.1 million. It finished first last year with a record 9.98 million sales, and is projecting annual sales of 10.2 million vehicles this year. That would be an auto industry record.
Toyota, which makes the Camry sedan, Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models, is doing well despite difficulties in its home Japanese market, where a rise in the sales tax has dampened spending overall, especially auto purchases.
Toyota has publicly played down its spot at the top, saying its focus is on delivering good cars, one at a time.
But the competition is intense. The three automakers have been close on each other's heels, competing not only in developed markets such as the U.S. and Europe, but also in the emerging markets of China and the rest of Asia.
Volkswagen, which nudged GM out of second in the first half of the year, stayed ahead of the Detroit automaker even though GM had its best third-quarter global sales since 1980, led by strong sales in China and growth in North America.
GM does not give annual sales projections, but Volkswagen has said it might deliver 10 million vehicles this year.
General Motors was the No. 1 selling automaker for more than seven decades before losing the title to Toyota in 2008. GM retook the sales crown in 2011, when Toyota's production was hurt by the quake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.
Toyota made a comeback in 2012, and kept that lead in 2013. GM is going strong despite issuing massive recalls this year totalling more than 30 million vehicles.
Toyota also underwent a massive recall debacle in the U.S., announcing recall after recall starting in 2009.
Japanese automakers, including Toyota, are also embroiled in an unfolding global recall problem, this time over faulty air bags made by Japanese supplier Takata Corp.
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