Toyota overtakes Volkswagen as largest carmaker in 2020

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The company sold 9.5 million vehicles worldwide last year, despite the pandemic

Toyota is once again the world’s largest automaker, having sold 9.5 million vehicles globally last year. 

For five consecutive years, the Japanese automaker lost the title of best-selling automaker to its German rival Volkswagen. But the company said Thursday that it topped Volkswagen’s sales in 2020 in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The pandemic had a major impact on the auto industry as a whole, but Toyota ended up coming out ahead. The Toyota group, which owns Daihatsu and Hino subsidiaries, said it sold 9.5 million vehicles last year -- slightly more than Volkwagen, which sold 9.3 million. 

Volkswagen -- which owns brands that include Audi, Skoda and Porsche -- was hit harder by pandemic-related disruptions in sales. The company’s passenger car sales in Europe fell 24 percent last year to fewer than 10 million units, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. Last week, however, Volkswagen said that profits for 2020 hit $12 billion, suggesting a recovery in the second half of the year. 

Strong sales

Toyota has a larger U.S. presence compared to Volkswagen, and U.S. residents weren’t on lockdown as often as consumers in Europe. Toyota spokeswoman Chisato Yoshifuji said the company was able to stave off pandemic-related financial losses due to virus-control measures. 

“Naturally the number of units sold was lower than in the previous year because of the spread of coronavirus,” Yoshifuji told Bloomberg. “But because Toyota and its partners were able to thoroughly implement measures to combat the spread of the virus, we were able to continue our corporate activities and keep yearly declines at the level they were.” 

Although it fared well in 2020, industry analysts say Toyota will have to continue dealing with a global chip shortage that has prompted automakers to close factories and furlough workers. Analyst Yoshiaki Kawano expects Toyota to “put up a good fight” in the coming year by putting out more electric vehicles and SUVs. 

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