Toyota Motor Corp. said global sales climbed 2.8 percent in the first nine months of this year as the carmaker battles Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co. for leadership.
The tight race between global giants is playing out as automakers, their customers and regulators contend with mounting recalls and rising scrutiny over the safety of vehicles. The industrywide struggle with defective cars poses risk to both Toyota and Volkswagen, which are benefiting from increasing demand in the China and U.S. markets.
“It’s a fantastic race, with their strengths coming in different parts of the world,” said James Chao, a Shanghai-based director at IHS Automotive. “You see the U.S. coming back quite strongly for Toyota, and then you see the great engine of growth for Volkswagen being China, which is continuing to perform.”
President Akio Toyoda told shareholders the company was “advancing into uncharted territory” in the annual report the Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker released last month. Toyoda, 58, noted the unprecedented milestone of selling more than 10 million vehicles worldwide last year, a mark both his company and Volkswagen are on pace to exceed again in 2014.
The industry is selling record numbers of vehicles globally as crises involving auto safety swirl. Air bags made by Takata Corp. are linked to at least four deaths and more than 30 injuries in the U.S. after the safety devices deployed with too much force, spraying metal shrapnel at occupants. U.S. authorities have begun an investigation and almost 8 million cars made by 10 automakers have been recalled to fix the hazard.
GM sales rose 2 percent to 7.37 million vehicles during the year’s first nine months, even as the company faces death claims from faulty ignition switches. While sales fell in Europe and South America, the company boosted third-quarter deliveries by 14 percent in China and 9.5 percent in North America.
The biggest U.S. automaker last week reported a third-quarter profit that beat estimates as North American customers flocked to pickups and sport-utility vehicles and expenses ebbed from recalls. GM has confirmed 29 fatalities tied to the flaw, which it failed to fix after more than a decade.
Toyota deliveries in the U.S. market increased 5.7 percent through September, paced by a 26 percent surge in sales of its RAV4 sport utility vehicle.
Volkswagen is benefiting from rising demand for its Audi luxury vehicles, driven by the Q5 SUV and long-wheelbase version of the A6 sedan.
The Q5 is ranked eighth among the top 10 best-selling SUVs in the market in the first nine months of this year, according to data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. The Wolfsburg, Germany-based parent Volkswagen claimed four of the nation’s 10 top-selling sedans during the same period, which included the Jetta and Santana models.