Volkswagen May Overtake Toyota as Global Sales Leader

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Between the global economic downturn and European government incentives on new car purchases, Volkswagen may overtake Toyota as the global sales leader in the first quarter.

Volkswagen’s worldwide sales fell 11.4 percent in the first quarter, but its market share actually increased to 11 percent, up from 9.7 percent, due to sharper sales decreases by other automakers. This may have let Volkswagen achieve its goal of becoming the largest automaker nine years early, if only briefly.

VW- with nine car and truck brands- set an ambitious goal of becoming the world’s top seller by 2018, hoping to overtake GM and Toyota. That goal was initially met with skepticism. It seems the company may have achieved its goal early partially due to a deepening recession and credit crisis in Toyota’s top markets. Toyota’s sales fell 38 percent in the U.S. and 24 percent in Japan.

In the first quarter of 2009, VW sold 1.39 million vehicles while Toyota estimates its total vehicle shipments were around 1.23 million vehicles. Toyota has not given any forecast for total retail sales, but its shipment rate is down 47 percent from this time last year.

Another reason for VW’s possible jump to first in sales is government stimulus packages meant to bolster new car sales. Packages offered in Germany, China, and Brazil- countries which accounted for 44 percent of the VW group’s sales last year- bolstered car sales when compared to the slumping sales in Toyota’s top markets.

Vehicle registrations in Germany are proof of the stimulus package’s effects. New Volkswagen group brand registrations in Germany were up 19 percent in the first quarter to around 282,000 vehicles. Toyota sales grew 43 percent in Germany, but its market share is only 4.4 percent. “Volkswagen has the luck of being strong in the markets that are certainly growing, while Toyota is exposed to those that are collapsing,” said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, head of the Centre for Automotive Research in Gelsenkirchen. He also added that the first quarter’s sales results were going to be close.

Toyota is looking to jump start its sales with a fourth generation Prius set to go on sales next month. The automaker giant is hoping the hybrids sales will be helped by government incentives aimed at encouraging consumers to buy cleaner, more fuel efficient vehicles. In addition to the Prius, Toyota will launch 16 new models in Europe.

According to R.L. Polk Germany, VW will overtake GM as the world’s second-largest automaker. The struggling U.S. automaker is fighting for its life while suffering huge drops in sales with consumer fears of bankruptcy driving people out of showrooms.

Source: Automotive News Europe

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