Toyota crowned world’s biggest automaker for third year

Bloomberg

Toyota Motor Corp. warded off Volkswagen AG to remain the world’s top-selling automaker for a third consecutive year, driven by record U.S. deliveries of its SUVs, according to the 2014 tally announced by the company Wednesday.

Worldwide sales for Toyota, including its Hino Motors Ltd. and Daihatsu Motor Co. units, climbed 3 percent to 10.23 million vehicles last year, according to a company statement. Volkswagen last week reported a 4.2 percent gain to 10.14 million vehicles, including its two heavy-truck units. General Motors Co. followed with 9.92 million sales, up 2.1 percent.

Surging demand for sport-utility vehicles including the compact RAV4 and mid-size Highlander paced Toyota’s U.S. market share gain last year, spurring plans to boost local production and exports from Japan in 2015. As Volkswagen and GM add factories to bolster their already-dominant position in China, President Akio Toyoda’s strategy to forgo building new car plants until at least next year could result in the first shake-up in auto-sales leadership since 2011.

“Their focus is not No. 1,” said Peggy Furusaka, a Tokyo-based auto-credit analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. “Toyota is more concerned about keeping profitability than chasing numbers. So for coming years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toyota selling fewer cars than VW.”

Toyota forecasts a 1 percent decline in annual sales to 10.15 million vehicles in 2015, the Toyota city, Aichi Prefecture-based carmaker said in a statement Wednesday. Volkswagen and GM have not announced projections for this year.

Toyoda, 58 and the founder’s grandson, has reined in the building of new plants following sudden unintended acceleration recalls in 2009 and 2010 and Japan’s tsunami the next year. The factory freeze was a response to those crises early in Toyoda’s tenure. Overexpansion before he became president had contributed to the carmaker’s first annual loss in almost six decades.

Sales in the U.S. for Toyota climbed 6.2 percent to 2.37 million units last year in the U.S., outpacing growth for GM, the largest U.S. carmaker, according to researcher Autodata Corp. Record SUV deliveries helped Toyota quadruple Volkswagen’s sales, which dropped 2.9 percent, Autodata said.

The VW brand sells just two SUVs in the U.S. — the compact Tiguan and upscale Touareg — while Toyota fields five. The Japanese automaker is now considering smaller SUVs for further growth, Jim Lentz, chief executive officer of Toyota’s North American operations, said in an interview this month.

In China, Toyota sells less than one-third as many vehicles as Volkswagen or GM, which have pledged to continue building local factories to supply a market forecast to expand to another record of more than 25 million vehicles this year.

GM’s China sales rose 12 percent last year to 3.54 million vehicles, while mainland China and Hong Kong accounted for a record 3.67 million deliveries at Volkswagen last year, up 12 percent and extending the country’s lead as the German manufacturer’s largest single market.

By contrast, Toyota delivered fewer vehicles in China last year than it targeted as slowing growth and vehicle stockpiles led some of its dealers to threaten to drop out of its sales network. Sales climbed 12.5 percent to 1.03 million units, missing its projection for 1.1 million. The company maintained the same target for this year.

VW plans to raise annual production capacity in China to 4 million units by 2018.