For the first time in five years, Toyota has reclaimed its No 1 position as the world’s top selling automaker from Germany’s Volkswagen who saw its demand hit harder due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Toyota released figures this week revealing that its group-wide sales fell 11.3% to 9.5 million vehicles in 2020 in contrast to VW’s 15.2% drop to 9.3 million vehicles. Toyota’s figures include those of Lexus, Daihatsu and Hino while VW encompasses brands such as Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini. Meanwhile, the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance slotted into 3rd while General Motors ranked 4th.
Throughout 2020, pandemic lockdowns in many countries forced potential customers to stay at home and avoid visiting car showrooms while requiring auto manufacturing plants to reduce or stop production. A considerably lower infection and death rate in Japan compared to Europe enabled Toyota to maintain production and sales at higher levels than Europe and the U.S. For its population of 126 million, just over 5,000 coronavirus deaths have been recorded. The U.K. for example, with its population of 66 million, has suffered over 100,000 fatalities.
Major carmakers in the U.S., Europe and Asia have battled over the No 1 spot for decades. In 2013, Toyota became the world’s biggest automaker after it overtook General Motors in sales. Then in 2015, VW snatched 2nd position from GM and overtook Toyota for No 1 in 2017. And now, in 2021, Toyota is the top dog.
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While car demand recovers as restrictions ease with the vaccine rollout, especially in China, Toyota, VW, GM and others will push hard to consolidate sales in global markets focusing heavily on plug-in hybrid and electric cars. What may affect Toyota retaining its No 1 spot is the brand’s late arrival to the EV market. While every European and U.S. automaker offers a growing variety of EVs in their lineups, Toyota, pioneer of the first-ever mass-produced hybrid Prius, will finally launch its first production, globally-targeted EV this year, and yes, it will be an SUV.
As Toyota Europe says, its hybrid technology, which if offered on nearly two-thirds of its product lineup, has enabled the company to comply with tough European emissions standards without launching into EVs. That same hybrid success, which includes an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack, has given Toyota the foundation it needed to enter the EV market when the time and infrastructure were ready. That time is now.