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Toyota returns as globe's top automaker after 5 years

Japanese group sold 10.4m vehicles in 2020 thanks to China and US drivers

A Toyota SUV on sale at an auto dealer in Guangzhou. China's success against the coronavirus and Americans' affinity for SUVs helped make Toyota No. 1. (Photo by Takashi Kawakami) 

NAGOYA, Japan -- Toyota has overtaken Volkswagen to become the world's bestselling carmaker, the first time the Japanese automaker has taken the mantle in five years, thanks to strong sales in China and the U.S.

Toyota announced on Thursday that it sold 9.52 million new vehicles in 2020, down 11.3% from the previous year. The Japanese carmaker said when it combines sales of Subaru, which became an equity-method affiliate in 2020, the number reached 10.4 million units.

Due to the spread of the coronavirus, Toyota's group sales fell by almost half last April, compared to a year earlier. But the company then managed a rapid sales recovery, particularly in China, which quickly recovered from COVID after a strict lockdown.

Toyota sold 987,700 cars in December, up 8.9% from the previous year and the most ever for the month. In North America, sales began a sharp recovery in May thanks to the popularity of SUVs.

Toyota in 2020 produced 9.21 million vehicles, down 14.1%. In Japan, Toyota built 2.92 million cars, including Lexus models, a 14.4% drop.

Toyota has long held to its goal of producing 3 million vehicles in Japan every year, a target meant to maintain the domestic supply chain, employment and suppliers. The automaker told Nikkei that "it has managed to maintain about 3 million units and was able to maintain" its supply chain.

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