FRANKFURT (Bloomberg) -- Volkswagen Group narrowed the gap in nine-month sales with market leader Toyota Motor Corp. as the world's two largest automakers enter the fourth quarter in a neck-and-neck race for the industry's global top spot.
VW Group's deliveries through September, including the Porsche and Audi luxury divisions and MAN and Scania heavy-truck units, trailed Toyota's by 72,000 vehicles compared with 227,000 a year earlier, according to calculations by Bloomberg News based on company announcements.
Growth in China has propelled gains at Wolfsburg-based Volkswagen, while Toyota has enjoyed benefits from rising demand in the U.S.
Possible effects of recalls in the past two months have yet to feed through to sales at the two manufacturers or at General Motors, which fell further back into third place.
Both Toyota and VW plan in excess of 10 million deliveries in 2014.
"It's a close call," Sascha Gommel, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Commerzbank AG, said by phone. The ranking "will depend on whether growth in China or the U.S. softens first."
Volkswagen's nine-month deliveries rose 5 percent from a year earlier to about 7.54 million cars and trucks. Toyota's sales climbed 2.8 percent to 7.62 million vehicles including the Daihatsu minicar and Hino truck brands.
The difference is roughly equivalent to the 72,499 light trucks that Toyota sold in the U.S. last month. VW doesn't sell trucks there.
GM, which dropped to third in 2012, sold 7.37 million vehicles in the first nine months, a 2 percent increase.
Toyota and GM are among 10 carmakers recalling a combined 7.8 million vehicles in the U.S. because of faults in air bags made by Takata Corp.
While Volkswagen isn't affected by that flaw, the company is recalling 1.02 million Jetta, Beetle and New Sagitar cars in the U.S. and China because of a possible suspension defect, while Audi is telling customers to bring in 850,000 of its A4 sedan and station wagons worldwide to fix faulty airbag software unrelated to Takata products.
"The number of affected cars per recall is getting bigger because of the modular strategies, where parts and components get shared between different model lines," Gommel said.
Toyota's U.S. sales increased 5.7 percent through September, paced by a 26 percent surge in demand for the RAV4 SUV.
VW-brand sales in the U.S. dropped 14 percent in the period, though demand jumped 15 percent at Audi.
VW's nine-month Chinese sales surged 15 percent. Volkswagen is scheduled to release third-quarter earnings on Oct. 30 and is set to update investors on efforts to group improve profitability.
The namesake VW passenger-car brand is looking to increase earnings by 5 billion euros ($6.35 billion) by 2018 and bolster profit as a proportion of sales to come more into line with margins at other divisions. Quarterly group earnings before interest and tax probably rose to 2.83 billion euros from 2.78 billion a year earlier, according to the average of nine analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.