Toyota extends its early lead in race for World’s Largest Automaker 2019

Steady-as-it goes Toyota stands a good chance of finishing this year as World’s Largest Automaker. Three months into 2019, Toyota leads the race with more than 2.7 million produced units to its name. 2nd-ranked Volkswagen Group is 121,000  units behind, while the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance brings up the rear. It may be a little early in the game to bet on a winner, but there are ominous minus signs supporting this call: 

For the first time in many years, Toyota’s competitors finish the first quarter of the year in a down trajectory.

Volkswagen Group’s deliveries in the first quarter were 2.8% below what was shipped in the first quarter of 2018. The weakness was mainly brought by an Asian flu. China is by far Volkswagen’s biggest market, and due to a deteriorating China market, Volkswagen’s deliveries in the Middle Kingdom were down 6.3% in the first quarter. With March deliveries in the Asia-Pacific region down nearly 10%, there are little hopes for a speedy recovery.

Matters are even worse at the crisis-shook Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. The French-Japanese group finished the first quarter down around 7%. Most of the shrinkage can be blamed on Nissan, which produced 9% fewer units in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period of 2018. Renault was down 5.6% for a number of reasons, once of them the total collapse of the formerly sizable Iran business, where Renault became collateral damage of Trumpian politics . Even Mitsubishi, down 3.6%, could no longer be relied on for bringing the double-digit growth percentages of the past. With these numbers, triggering a crisis by throwing its former  Chairman Carlos Ghosn repeatedly into a Japanese jail, and initiating a purge of non-Japanese executives, increasingly looks ill-advised.

Nearly 200,000 units behind Toyota and tumbling in an accelerating stall, the Alliance will hardly be a deciding factor in this year’s race. Volkswagen’s chances mostly depend on the Chinese market, to which Toyota is much less exposed.

And now the necessary caveat:

The race for World’s Largest Automaker is not decided by sales, but by production, and this analysis attempts to track production, not sales, because this is how the world automaker umbrella organization OICA ranks automakers.

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 and sales. Volkswagen reports “deliveries” to wholesale – which can be cars dumped on dealer lots, or actual sales to customers. The Alliance numbers used to be a blend of production data reported by Nissan and Mitsubishi, and deliveries reported by Renault. As of September 2018, Renault started to report sales only, forcing us to use those.