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Toyota falls to third place in 2017 global car sales

Renault-Nissan pulls into second with help of Mitsubishi

Toyota's group sales include those at minicar unit Daihatsu Motor and truck maker Hino Motors.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor once again missed the top spot in the global vehicle sales for the second straight year in 2017, losing to Germany's Volkswagen and likely falling into third place after the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.

Toyota said Tuesday its global vehicle sales in 2017 totaled a record 10,386,000, up 2.1%, compared to the 10.74 million, up 4.3%, sold by Volkswagen in the same period. The figure for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi group is expected to reach a similar level to Volkswagen.

The gap with Volkswagen comes mainly from differing results in emerging markets, especially China, where the German automaker boosted volume 5.1% to 4.18 million vehicles. Volkswagen focuses its spending on China.

The latest figure for Toyota, which is a group-wide number including volumes at Daihatsu Motor and Hino Motors, exceeded the approximately 10,354,000 the company estimated in December by about 30,000.

In Japan, sales grew 4.5% to about 2.33 million, boosted by a new compact car. Overseas sales grew 1.4% to 8,054,000, buoyed mainly by solid sales of SUVs such as the RAV4 -- notably an increase in hybrid models in Europe, where emissions regulations are increasingly tight.

While Toyota's sales in Europe and China grew, figures for the Middle East and U.S. fell 14.9% and 0.6%, respectively.

It may have fallen from the global top spot, but Toyota does not intend to single-mindedly pursue higher volume, for fear that doing so may hurt quality. In 2018, the company plans to sell 10,495,000 vehicles, up 1% from a year ago, with Japanese sales expected to fall 5% due to the impact from new model introductions running out, but the overseas figure seen as growing 3%.

Still, the company needs to at least increase sales from a year ago to fund its increasingly heavy research and development burden for advanced technologies, including electrification and self-driving.

"We need to grow from the level a year ago," a Toyota executive said. "Otherwise, we'd see our competitiveness decline."

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