World’s Largest Automakers: Alliance still ahead, Volkswagen loses 2016 title

9 months into the year, the race for World’s Largest Automaker 2017 remains extremely tight. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance still clings to its surprising lead, but Toyota and Volkswagen are only rounding errors behind.  Meanwhile, it turns out that Volkswagen wrongly claimed the top spot in 2016. The judges decided it was Toyota.

This year’s race promises to get even tighter when the October results are in. A few weeks ago, Nissan stopped all sales in Japan due to a hard to understand testing imbroglio.  Nissan said the matter could affect 60,000 cars, or more, which amounts to just-about a month of sales in Japan.  That will shrink the Alliance’s lead over Toyota (currently only 90,000  units behind)  to a hair.  In France, Alliance Chairman Carlos Ghosn still exudes confidence about the year-end, but it will get dicey.

Toyota and Volkswagen Group pretty much remain on their trajectories. Toyota slowed down a bit, while Volkswagen nudged the gas.

All in all, the race is so tight that anything can happen, and I would not be surprised if multiple winners are announced when the year is over.  World’s definitely and officially largest automaker is crowned by the global  automaker umbrella organization OICA, and it just got around to publishing its 2016 ranking. 

Surprisingly to many (but not to me) OICA decided that Toyota was World’s Largest Automaker 2016, and not Volkswagen.  

OICA ranks automakers by production, not by sales. Which turns out as a sensible solution: Due to the different methodologies of their measurement, “sales” numbers have proven to be unreliable, and prone to ‘sales reporting abuses,” as recent scandals in the U.S., along with rampant “self-registrations” in the EU have shown.

At the same time, data reported by automakers are becoming increasingly hard to compare.

Toyota reports production only. Volkswagen reports “deliveries” to wholesale – which is, at least for this exercise, close enough to production. The Alliance numbers are a blend of production data reported by Nissan and Mitsubishi, and deliveries reported by Renault.

On OICA’s 2016 list, the Alliance does not appear. Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi are counted separately.

With differences as tight as they are, slight changes in methodologies can change the whole ranking, and we might again have to wait 10 months until OICA declares a winner.

When that happens, the true king of all automakers yet again will be crowned away from the eye of the public. That silent coronation also could cost the Alliance its crown, even if it doesn’t fall behind in the closing months of the year. Incomprehensibly, getting timely data out of the Alliance amounts to pulling teeth. Official numbers are only communicated every 6 months, and between that, the Alliance numbers become a matter of spreadsheet artistry with disjointed inputs. I would not be surprised if the Alliance members will report to OICA separately again this year, turning it from world’s largest into an alliance of also-rans.