Who Was The Top Car Manufacturer in 2017?

VW - MAT Foundry

Volkswagen sold more cars than any of their competitors in 2017, pipping Toyota to the ‘crown’ for a second year in succession.

In a record breaking twelve months for the German manufacturer combined sales hit the 10.7 million mark, contributing to revenue in excess of $367 billion. The figures are eye-watering and proof that reports of a demise – or even a blip – were in actuality greatly exaggerated.

Toyota relinquished the title of biggest car maker in 2016 but put up a valiant effort this time around, shifting just 350,000 cars less than VW. As if to underline the feat their output rose by 2%.

So what made the difference this time around? Well the popularity of premium models no doubt contributed. Indeed these rankings do not reflect a straightforward shootout between the manufacturers themselves but rather a roll call of their extended families. The likes of Audi, Porsche and SEAT now fall under the VW umbrella and accrue them a great many followers.

Likewise, Toyota count sales of Lexus, Daihatsu and Hindo within any grand total their end.

Cynics dismiss these yearly comparisons for that very reason. Sheer scope, many claim, negates any meaningful analysis. Take BMW and Mercedes-Benz independent boasts to be the world’s biggest selling premium brand for instance. How were both claims made to the same throne? Because – it transpired-  BMW included the likes of Mottorad and the BMW i within their totals. In a direct head-to-head however Mercedes trounced them.

Production - MAT Foundry

Referring back to the original end of year findings then it would be remiss not to re-enforce the impact of VW’s 12 sub brands, these outnumbering Toyota’s three. Size matters.

Data analysts JATO took it upon themselves to better dissect the figures, excluding auto groups and the likes of trucks and supercars to boot. When pared down to that extent, Toyota win out – selling 1.2m vehicles more than VW.

However you interpret the data undeniable is Volkswagen’s resurgence. Their numbers are strong. Very strong. Of greater intrigue is perhaps what strategy has been implemented to turn the tide post 2015.

Cost cutting has undoubtedly played its part but increased efficiency and the decentralising of operations have had just as big an impact.

Notable too is preparation for the looming electric and self-autonomous age. Chinese quotas for EVs and stricter regulation in Europe triggered a shift in focus. Indeed VW have actually committed to spending no less than €34 billion on vehicles attuned to the times, a project of gargantuan proportions. Diesel has been all but abandoned by new leadership in both Europe and stateside.

The proof though is always in the pudding. Net profit has doubled, inspiring CEO Matthias Muller to herald the results as ‘excellent’ and evidence VW are primed for a shifting landscape.

Such encouragement however has not necessarily translated to forecasts. Indeed VW have aired on the side of caution when predicting 2019’s numbers – perhaps in light of missing internal targets for operating earnings. They are shooting for a margin of between 6.5 and 7.5 per cent this annum, which commentators feel is somewhat on the safe side.

Elsewhere an honourable mention should be afforded Renault-Nissan. This mutually beneficial alliance had actually shifted more vehicles than anyone in the six months leading up to June. In fact their potential of the union knows no apparent bounds. RN head the charge for SUV segments worldwide, a burgeoning market driving the most growth. You could say they are handily placed.

In truth the significance of becoming the top car manufacturer differs according to whose opinion you canvass. Volkswagen has never been shy in telling the world of their ambition to head up such polls. Then again, they have the money, facilities and workforce to back-up the bluster. In contrast, Toyota is relaxed (realistic).

Historically General Motors dominated the scene; for seven long decades in fact. They may no longer be the behemoth of days gone by but still do alright for themselves, despite a net loss this time around. Interestingly they sold over four million cars in China last year, leading to speculation they will launch up to twenty electric cars by 2023, all in a bid to hammer home any advantage they currently possess in the region.

And perhaps that is all a list of top selling car manufacturers actually tells us, whose in rude health. If so Volkswagen and Toyota have reason to celebrate.



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