By on November 18, 2009

Who’s on third? Pictures courtesy

Volkswagen wants to unseat Toyota as number one by 2018. When they announced that strategy, it was widely discounted as Wolfsburg hubris, and as a goal so far out that nobody will recall nine years down the road that the goal has ever been set. Or as the saying goes in Wolfsburg: “In 2018, I’ll be retired.”

A few days ago, The Guardian reported that in the first 9 months of 2009, Volkswagen/Porsche made 4.4 million cars whereas Toyota made 4 million. Which ignited speculations that VeeDub may have reached its elusive goal 9 years early. Then the usual count of apples and oranges ensued, and after the joint ventures with minority stakes were included, Toyota nosed ahead.

Everybody calm down. Volkswagen is years away from overtaking Toyota, reports Das Autohaus. Surprise, surprise, arch rival GM is nipping at Toyota’s heels.

According to an analysis by alleged auto expert Stefan Bratzel, Toyota should close out the year with 7.49m units sold. Bratzel, who is a professor for economics in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, sees GM selling only 65000 units less than Toyota. 65K! With a little channel stuffing and creative accounting, GM might be number one. If Bratzel has his numbers right. Bratzel expects Volkswagen to sell 6.17m units in 2009 and to remain solidly in the #3 position. Bratzel sees Toyota and GM performing a head-to-head race for the number one spot in 2010 also.

The battlefield where most of this is fought is China. GM grows faster in China than Volkswagen, both grow much faster in China than Toyota. According to Bratzel, Toyota lost more in the USA than GM. However, data by Automotive News [sub] don’t support that claim. Automotive News says that in the first ten months of 2009, Toyota was down 26 percent in the US, while GM shed 34 percent. Today, the Nikkei [sub] reports that in October, Toyota posted its first year-on-year global sales growth in 15 months. According to the Nikkei “North American sales were essentially flat from a year earlier.” Oh yeah?

Are we confused yet? Didn’t we hear that GM had long been kicked off the #2 podium? Hasn’t Veedub been feted as #2 for most of the year? Guess we’ll have to wait for the good folks at OICA for the definitive word. Which will take a while.

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21 Comments on “Who’s On First? Toyota? VW? Or, Gasp, GM?...”

  • avatar

    As GM has so amply demonstrated over the last, say, 20 years, being the number one manufacturer does not matter one bit if you fail to make a dime of profit on the bazillions of cars you make. (It just makes for better headlines if the “Number One Car Manufacturer” goes TU.) To wit: journalists all over the world have been falling over themselves to congratulate GM on the fact that they’ve “only” posted a 1.1bn loss this quarter.
    Being the most sustainably profitable company – now there’s something to be impressed with…

  • avatar

    arch rival GM is nipping at Toyota’s heels
    Eh? Toyota don’t give a crap what GM are up to. They don’t care about VW either. Maybe they worry about Hyundai.
    Actually, from my employer’s dealings, I’m pretty convinced Toyota don’t “think” about units units units either…..

  • avatar

    This is wonderful news as VW and Toyota have such different approaches to designing and building cars.  It would be a sad world indeed if everyone said – Toyota has the key we’re all going to build our cars as similar as possible to the Corolla, Camry, LS460, etc.
    I like living in a world where for $36k one company will offer an Audi A3 3.2 S-Line and another will offer me a Lexus ES350.  Or for $26k I can get a Jetta GLI or a Camry XLE.

  • avatar

    It amazes me that GM and VW don’t play by the rules.  It is generally accepted that if you do not own 51% of the stock in a car company, you cannot claim the volume as ‘yours’.  Had that been the case, Ford could have claimed Mazda as part of their volume but they didn’t.  Chinese partners generally own much more than 50% of their joint operations. So it is deliberately misleading for GM and VW to add their chinese production to their own volume figures.  Both GM and VW play games when it comes to PR and misleading the public.  We need to be very suspect of what these two companies say regarding their ‘performance’.

  • avatar

    The goal of a business is to make money. The more money that is made for the ownership and investors of the company, the more successful the company is. I don’t give a damn if your annual sales are triple what your nearest competitor’s are, if you’re bleeding money, then your company is failing. Period. The #1 auto company in the world is the one whose profits are largest, screw who sells the most cars.

  • avatar

    GM, bankrupt and broken, is still chasing volume just like they always have. 

    Wasn’t this supposed to be the new GM?  It would be funny if my tax dollars weren’t propping that company up.

  • avatar

    I’ve been in this industry longer than I dare to admit, and the ane and only universally accepted metric for the size of a car company or market is units. Sorry.  It’s units on the road, units per thousand pop, units produced, units sold.  In this context, it doesn’t matter whether the unit costs $3000 or $ 300,000. Whether a company makes money or not doesn’t enter the equation either. It does ( to some degree ) at the stock exchange, or in market cap. If the largest car company would have been the one with the highest profits, then for a short while, this probably would have been Porsche. Wouldn’t look right either.

    • 0 avatar

      the ane and only universally accepted metric for the size of a car company or market is units
      Yup, for some companies, it well and truly explains why large parts of the industry are in the crapper too.

  • avatar

    I believe all of this is pointless as I have posted before in regards to China’s number one position as a consumer of cars. As another poster mentioned, being number one is pointless if your cars are unprofitable or just plain crap. It is not a badge of honor to be number one or a disgrace to not be. GM is a good example, number one in sales for decades with a mediocre, uninspiring, barely profitable line-up.

    While sales maybe the only viable metric available, it’s obviously not a pertinent one. Growth in market share at the expense of others, satisfaction ratings, profitability,  wow factor, tapping new markets all make for better measures assuming they can be measured.

    Volkswagon as number one? OK, if it is based on sales so be it, but they still manufacture and sell, at least in North America, the same sad-sack, unreliable, unpronounceable cars that they have sold for years. GM redux or “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”? 

  • avatar

    All of these companies should stop focusing on being the biggest, and should start focusing on being the best.
    Toyota needs to be less bland.
    Volkswagen needs to be more reliable.
    GM needs to be both less bland, more reliable, and CHEAPER than either of the above two.
    Biggest does not matter in the eye of the consumer.

  • avatar

    For JVs, I think it would be more accurate to count the sales in terms of stake. For example, if SAIC-GM sold 100 cars and GM has a 50% stake, then count it as 50 cars sold by GM.

  • avatar

    Considering that Toyota is supposed to be scalling back to return to their roots I don’t think VW passing it is far off. That said VW should be more concerned about continuing their recent relliabilty streak rather than pushing as many cars out the door as they can.

  • avatar

    Who really cares who is number one in total vehicles sold?  Going after goals like this instead of being profitable is only going to hurt.  Just ask GM.

  • avatar

    Actually, whoever penned the “Strategy 2018” for VW had listened to the requests voiced here. Not only does VW want to leave Toyota in the dust in unit sales. But also in terms of innovation, customer satisfaction, and profitability.  There you have it. Good luck with that.

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