TOKYO/FRANKFURT - VOLKWAGEN may have overtaken Toyota to become the world's top-selling carmaker in the first quarter.
Although overall VW deliveries to customers fell 11 per cent to around 1.39 million vehicles, the German carmaker dramatically increased its share of the global passenger car market by 130 basis points to 11.0 per cent.
Toyota has given no forecast for retail sales, but its latest estimate for shipments for the 2009 first quarter is 1.23 million vehicles, down 47 per cent from a year earlier.
'Volkswagen has the luck of being strong in the markets that are currently growing, while Toyota is exposed to those that are collapsing,' said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, head of the Centre for Automotive Research in Gelsenkirchen, adding the quarter's results would be 'close'.
Volkswagen - with its nine brands including Audi, Skoda, Seat and truckmaker Scania - aimed to surpass Toyota and General Motors as the world's No.1 seller by 2018 - a target that was met with heavy scepticism since VW sold just 6.3 million vehicles to Toyota's 9 million in 2008.
But a deepening recession and credit crisis have crippled demand in Toyota's top markets, with US sales falling 38 per cent and Japan sliding 24 per cent in January-March.
'Volkswagen is a big competitor for Toyota,' said Koji Endo, auto analyst at Credit Suisse in Tokyo.
'Audi is strong, Volkswagen is strong, and they're making good use of their small cars.'
Toyota's first-quarter U.S. sales fell 36 percent, while sales in Japan for the core Toyota brand plummeted 31 percent. The two markets account for just under half of its global sales. -- REUTERS