Toyota remains World’s Largest Automaker. Ranks 2 and 3 a cliffhanger, 2014 a knife fight.

Toyota lobby - Picture courtesy Bertel Schmitt

Toyota has announced global sales for 2013, and they came in as expected. The Daily Kanban had TMC at 10 million, give and take a few, and the official number is 10 million, take 20,000: Toyota sold 9,980,000 units worldwide in 2013. Which should cement TMC’s top spot in the ranks of the World’s Largest Automakers. The number two and three ranks are too close to call – whoever tells you that GM is second and VW third should apply for immediate amateur status. And if you can’t stand the suspense, then 2014 will be absolutely intolerable.

World’s Largest Automakers
Full Year 2013 Sales Data
CT2013 CY2012 YoY
Toyota 9,980,000 9,700,000 2.9%
GM 9,714,652 9,489,000 2.4%
Volkswagen 9,700,000 9,070,000 6.9%
Source: Company data.

Last week, Volkswagen announced group deliveries of “over 9.7 million.” A few days later, GM announced global deliveries of 9.71 million. Not knowing the size of VW’s rounding error, anything remains possible. This even more so due to the fact that OICA, the global automaker umbrella organization that keeps track of these things, ranks its members by production, not by sales.

Toyota has not released production data for 2013 yet, the company will do so on January 30th in Tokyo. The Daily Kanban will be there, if we are still invited. Neither Volkswagen nor GM have released production data.

Sales and production can have a variance of one or two percent. In 2012, Toyota reported production of 9.91 million units on sales of 9.7 million.  Last October, the Daily Kanban declared Toyota the winner of the 2013 race and projected production of  10.043 million. We expect the official; number to be in that neighborhood – also because Toyota already said that 2014 production should be 3 percent better than the still top secret 2013 number.

By the time production numbers get reported to OICA, they often do change. These variances are SOP, they have been as long as I have been around the industry, and that’s a long time. The number two and three spots will remain undecided until OICA gets around to releasing their 2013 ranking. Which should be in late summer 2014. Or later, if  OICA again gets into a brawl with Chinese automakers over overly exuberant numbers. The 2011 list was finally published in November 2012, only to be put under review a few days later.

2014 offers even more suspense. This year, any of the top three can become number one, or two, or three.  For 2014, Toyota projects production of 10.43 million units, only three percent higher than the top-secret 10.1 million (or so) 2013 count. Volkswagen and GM better brush their teeth, because they are breathing in Toyota’s neck. If they remain on their current trajectory, both VW and GM can become World’s Largest Automaker 2014, with the odds for VW slightly better than those of GM.

The battleground for world domination remains to be China, where the auto market roared back to double-digit life last year. Here, Toyota fights with one hand tied to their backs. The island issue still weighs on the sales on Japanese brands in China. Sales have recovered, but the islands dominate Chinese TV, to the detriment of  formerly highly regarded Japanese brands. The Chinese car market is dominated by Volkswagen and GM, with GM having fallen into the number 2 position behind the Germans. Advantage GM and VW. If Chinese television is to be believed, that conflict can get ugly at any time though, which could ruin it for all involved.

The world’s second-hottest car market is the U.S., an at-home game for GM, and to some extent Toyota. Both had similar growth rates last year. Volkswagen’s fortunes in the land of plenty were no so good, and I don’t see them immediately improving. Advantage: GM and Toyota.

Europe will remain a basket case for a while, never mind the December surprise. I don’t see much material growth here for anyone.

Southeast-Asia will be the new hot spot with the advantage definitely going to Toyota. Toyota’s home market Japan, where it still aims to sell about one-third of its global volume, is expected to come in flat to slightly negative this year.

So welcome to 2014, a year where we won’t know for many months who is last year’s  #2 or #3, and where the race promises to be full of surprises throughout the year.

P.S.: If you ask the globals – on the record – about this race, they will all appear blasé, they will claim sales are unimportant, they will say that the top spot in the hearts and minds of the customer is an achievement of much higher importance than silly sales numbers. They all lie. All, except Volkswagen who had not received the kumbaya memo,and, German as they are, declared world domination as priority Nummer Eins and Endziel part of their Strategie 2018. Last year, Wolfsburg appeared tiring of the slogging match, they made noises about declaring victory and looking for new, most likely more pliable goals. Who knows, they might reach their old goal in 2014. Whereupon they will say that they always had said it, and Ferdinand Piech will retire.