Toyota (TM) took the spot as the world's No.1 car company in 2009, replacing GM (GM) which held the honor for decades. Now, GM has taken the position back based on its data from the first half and numbers from Toyota and VW. VW actually claimed the second spot and pushed Toyota into third.
It has been a long road for GM but there's definitely much to cheer about these days. Sales in China are the major catalyst of the GM recovery. The U.S. manufacturer sold 1.27 million cars and light trucks in the world's largest auto market during the first half.
GM's fortunes bottomed when it filed for Chapter 11 in mid-2009. Forty days later, it emerged from bankruptcy, aided by U.S. government funds and cleansed of many of its balance sheet obligations. GM still had to rebuild sales which it lost during most of the last decade. It did so with new models, many for the U.S. market. And, it became the top car company in China, often tied with VW for that lead.
Toyota's movement has driven into reverse. Recalls of 8.1 million cars worldwide damaged the company's sterling reputation and its sales. As the Japanese firm began to rebound, the March earthquake in its home market crippled production. And many of its plants in Japan will not be at full production until September. In the meantime, a lack of cars and parts have harmed its ability to compete in many nations, particularly the U.S.
VW's move into the No. 2 spot should not be much of a surprise. It is one of the dominant manufacturers in the EU markets. Its position in China is strong. And, it has begun an aggressive push into the U.S., where its market share is currently very small. VW's management's goal is to become the No.1 car company in the world by 2018. Its current trajectory could make that goal a reality.
The wild card in the race for the top spot in global car sales is Toyota's Japan production problems. Once it has all of its capacity back, it can begin a new move to take GM's position.