• Kyodo, Bloomberg

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In 2020, Toyota Motor Corp. group ranked top for global auto sales for the first time in five years, on a robust pickup in sales in China and the United States, overtaking Volkswagen AG of Germany, data showed Thursday.

Toyota said it sold 9.53 million units globally last year, including those sold by its group’s minivehicle maker Daihatsu Motor Co. and truck manufacturer Hino Motors Ltd., with the overall figure down 11.3% from a year earlier. That compares with VW’s 9.31 million, down 15.2% from a year earlier.

The Japanese auto giant suffered less of an impact from the novel coronavirus pandemic than other carmakers.

Toyota’s global annual sales had logged their first decline in five years, after they fell sharply in the April to June quarter due to the worldwide economic impacts of the pandemic.

However, they recovered in its main markets such as China and the United States from the fall, posting increases for three consecutive months from October, Toyota said.

A Toyota official said the company’s aggressive sales strategy, which saw it roll out a series of new models, contributed to relatively solid sales in 2020 compared to other automakers.

“Our sales dropped from a year earlier amid the pandemic, but the decline was limited to around a 10% level,” the official said.

VW has a strong footprint in the European Union, where passenger car sales fell an “unprecedented” 24% to fewer than 10 million units in 2020, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Toyota, on the other hand, has a bigger presence in the U.S., where total car sales fell only 15% in 2020. The Japanese automaker’s global sales were down 11%. Although the U.S. has the most COVID-19 deaths and cases, there haven’t been the same lockdowns as in Europe.

Prior to 2020, VW had outsold Toyota every year since 2015. But the two companies’ results last year may be indicative of a longer-term trend, according to analysts.

While VW is expected to temporarily surpass Toyota again in 2021, Toyota is projected to pull ahead each year through 2025, IHS Markit said. VW’s push to produce more electrified vehicles should lead to a sales spike this year, but prolonged lockdowns and shop closures in its domestic market will continue to have an adverse impact, analyst Yoshiaki Kawano said.

Kawano said Toyota will continue to enjoy strong sales in its core markets of Japan and the U.S. In China, the world’s largest car market, it should “put up a good fight” by pushing out more EVs and SUVs in line with local demand, he said.

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