Japan’s Toyota, which had topped sales for the past four years, sold 10.175 million vehicles globally in 2016. That fell short of the 10.31 million sales which VW reported last week.
The milestone comes despite VW’s scandal over emissions tests cheating, which sparked a global backlash and multiple lawsuits. A spokesman for VW said: “2016 was a very challenging year for us.”
The company “made strides in resolving and overcoming the diesel crisis” and initiated fundamental change in the company’s long-term strategy, he said. “Nonetheless, we managed to stabilise operating business in difficult conditions: the fact that we handed over more than 10 million vehicles to customers last year bolsters the group and its brands as we head for the future,” he added.
Volkswagen, which makes the Audi, Porsche and Skoda brands, saw a 3.8% increase in sales buoyed by demand in China. And it has been making inroads in other markets too. In Sweden for example, the Volkswagen Golf was the most popular new car in 2016.
Toyota’s sales grew by 0.2% – though it appears to have suffered from a slowdown in the US car industry. General Motors reports its figures next week, but it is expected to lag both the Japanese and the German firms.