Hans Greimel
Hans Greimel
Asia Editor, Tokyo

Toyota still has global bragging rights over VW in one important area

Hans Greimel is Asia Editor for Automotive NewsHans Greimel is Asia Editor for Automotive News
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Forget all the talk this week about Volkswagen ousting Toyota as the world’s biggest automaker. Rest assured, Toyota is still No. 1 in sales and VW a far, far distant second.

And by Toyota and Volkswagen, in this case, I mean the Toyota and Volkswagen brands.

The Japanese carmaker sold a whopping 8.5 million passenger and commercial vehicles emblazoned with the Toyota sombrero in calendar year 2016. Its German rival delivered just 6.5 million with its namesake logo. Toyota’s total eclipsed VW’s by nearly one-third.

When sliced by manufacturer, it is true: Volkswagen Group ended Toyota Motor Corp.’s four-year reign as the world’s biggest automaker. Toyota reported its 2016 global sales total on Jan. 30, claiming that worldwide volume inched ahead 0.2 percent to 10.2 million vehicles.

That fell short of the 10.3 million VW reported selling last year for a 3.8 percent bump.

But VW’s total includes a piecemeal patchwork of sales results from some seven brands, spanning flagship VW, to Audi, Skoda, Seat, Porsche and truckmakers MAN and Scania.

Toyota’s total covers just four: Toyota, Lexus, Daihatsu and Hino. Throw in the paltry dribble from Scion, which was killed off mid-2016, if you count that as a truly independent brand.

Yet, the Toyota brand alone racked up sales of 8.55 million vehicles last year, including commercial vehicles. The tally accounted for 84 percent of the parent company’s global volume.

The Volkswagen brand, by contrast, sold 6.47 million commercial and passenger vehicles. The VW brand chipped in only 63 percent of its parent company’s total shipments.

Profit is arguably the most important way to measure the world’s biggest automaker. Production is yet another. But let’s not overlook the yardstick of the flagship brand’s footprint.

Many executives in Toyota City look askance at the buying binge VW embarked on to juice its global grand total through an amalgamation of different brands. Better, the argument goes, to cultivate steady organic growth, for better synergies, brand value and profitability.

Indeed, Toyota has largely widened its lead over VW over the past decade. Back in 2000, the Volkswagen brand sold 3.49 million commercial and passenger vehicles.

The same year, Toyota moved 4.19 million.

That 700,000-unit sales gap in 2000 expanded to more than 2 million vehicles by last year.

Toyota may have lost bragging rights as the world’s largest auto manufacturer in 2016. But at least it didn’t have to buy its way into the title the years it ended on top.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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