NAGOYA -- The Renault-Nissan alliance has overtaken Volkswagen as the world's best-selling automaker for the first half of 2017 as the group expanded sales across global markets.
The French-Japanese alliance, which acquired Mitsubishi Motors last October, saw sales expand 7% on the year to 5,268,079 units during the six months. Volkswagen came in second, while Toyota Motor remained third despite record sales.
Renault's sales significantly improved on its home turf in Europe as well as in Africa, the Middle East, India and elsewhere. Nissan's sales recovered in Japan.
General Motors of the U.S. had ruled the roost for 77 years until it was surpassed by Toyota in 2008 as the top auto seller. Since 2014, Toyota and Volkswagen have dueled for the lead, edging each other out by slim margins.
Toyota's worldwide sales for the half, including subsidiaries Daihatsu and Hino Motors, rose 3% to a record 5,129,000 vehicles. However, Toyota's sales alone fell 4% to 1,155,000 units due to a shrinking U.S. market. Cheap gasoline has pushed up demand for larger vehicles, stealing the thunder from passenger cars, of which Toyota controls a large share. On the other hand, the automaker's new car sales grew 10% in Japan.
Volkswagen's worldwide sales edged up just 1% as Germany moves away from diesel cars and subsidiary Audi's sales fell in China. Sales in both markets were below last year's totals for the half.
With the Renault-Nissan alliance's ascent, the battle for top automaker is increasingly shaping up to be a three-way battle. However, "Selling the most vehicles is not an essential goal," said Joji Tagawa, a corporate vice president at Nissan. "The important thing is to create synergy."
Automakers are zeroing in on structural reforms now that players from other industries such as Google have taken the lead on self-driving technology and internationally popular ride-sharing services.
It is now or never for automakers to develop fully electric and fuel cell vehicles now that China and Europe are stepping up environmental regulations. "Although investments in expensive, next-generation technology will not bring profits soon, we must invest to have a future," said one Toyota executive.
General Motors announced in March that it will exit the European market by selling its European division, including Opel, which boasts sales of around 1 million units.
The industry's power balance is likely to sway based on how and where companies focus their management resources.