Toyota Motor Corp. outsold General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG in 2013 to lead the global auto industry for the second straight year and forecast 3.4 percent growth for 2014 on rising demand in the U.S. and China.
Worldwide vehicle sales at Toyota, including deliveries from subsidiaries Hino Motors Ltd. and Daihatsu Motor Co., rose 2.4 percent to 9.98 million units last year, the automaker said Thursday.
That compared with the 9.71 million units sold by GM and more than 9.7 million units at VW. Sales will probably rise to 10.32 million units this year, Toyota said.
Toyota Chief Executive Officer Akio Toyoda retained the No. 1 ranking while piling up profits, out-earning GM and VW combined in the most recent quarter. Still, he faces resurgent American automakers that are fielding their best cars in decades and an aggressive Volkswagen that has been increasing investment in the U.S. and China.
“The competition is getting more intense,” said Sanjeev Varma, the managing director at Stellar Alliance Group LLC, who is based in Detroit. “VW is No. 1 in China, GM No. 1 in the U.S., and all three automakers are scaling up investment in product development and on new models.”
Last year marked a turning point for Toyoda, who took over as president after Toyota’s first annual loss in almost six decades. After years of being haunted by global recalls, natural disasters, a soaring yen and Chinese boycott against Japanese products, Toyoda got what he wished for: a disaster-free year.
The Toyota scion cleared out the remnants of top management inherited when he took the helm in 2009, laid out a more clearly defined corporate structure with a greater focus on emerging markets, and appointed three outside directors to join the board for the first time.
Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, is also pushing an overhaul of vehicles with an emphasis on “waku-doki” design, shorthand for the Japanese phrase for heart-racing qualities.
“What Toyoda has been doing is to go back to Toyota’s original philosophy and focus on products and long-term goals,” said Kota Yuzawa, an analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Tokyo. “Last year was the first year his efforts began to bear fruits. The product cycle has just started and they can probably continue to roll out good products and give us good numbers.”
The competition is intensifying. While Toyota led GM by about 460,000 units in 2012, this year, the gap has narrowed to about 270,000 units.
Last year, GM deliveries increased 4 percent to 9.71 million units. VW’s global sales, which includes the heavy truck brands of MAN and Scania, rose almost 5 percent to more than 9.7 million units, the company said in a statement earlier this month, without giving an exact figure.
To catch up with Toyota and GM, VW announced plans at the Detroit auto show this month to spend more than $7 billion during the next five years in North America. VW seeks to boost sales of its namesake and Audi brands to 1 million vehicles there by 2018, the year it has set as a goal to become the best-selling automaker in the world.