NAGOYA -- Toyota Motor led the world's automakers in unit sales for the three quarters ended September, reclaiming the top spot it had lost to Volkswagen for the January-June half. But the many variables influencing the market make the winner for all of 2015 an open question.
Toyota, VW and General Motors had all announced January-September sales by Monday. Toyota's groupwide sales, including Daihatsu Motor and Hino Motors, decreased 1.5% on the year to 7,498,000 vehicles. The German company's declined 1.5% to 7,430,800, while sales at the American automaker sank 1.9% to 7,235,000.
Toyota's group sales in Japan fell 7.8% to 1,646,000, partly on higher minivehicle ownership taxes. But overseas sales edged up 0.4% to a record 5,852,000.
In the key U.S. market, sport utility vehicles and other larger offerings fared well. Toyota's parent-only sales there rose 4% to 1,867,000.
VW, meanwhile, struggled mightily in Brazil and Russia. China, which accounts for roughly a third of its global sales, has been trending lower than a year earlier. The German company beat Toyota in September sales, but lost to the Japanese company for the entire nine-month period.
A focal point going forward will be the VW emissions scandal, which broke in late September. In the automaker's stronghold of Western Europe, such rivals as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor are trying to steal its customers away with promotional campaigns.
VW may offer significant new-vehicle discounts in Germany for trade-ins of certain affected models, the DPA news agency reported Sunday. The success or failure of such efforts likely will determine sales trends for the rest of the year.
A Toyota official says the Japanese automaker is "by no means on solid" ground, either. Its sales have been declining in Thailand and Indonesia, where the automaker commands large market shares. Even as cheap gasoline boosts U.S. sales, it is dampening demand in such oil-producing economies as Russia and the Middle East, where larger vehicles are popular. Toyota and VW were not all that far apart in January-September sales, with a difference of fewer than 70,000 units.
With no automaker immune to various uncertainties, how to navigate such a challenging market environment will be key.