Volkswagen Dethrones Toyota as World's Largest Carmaker in 2016

VW outpaces Japanese rival by a mere 100,000 cars.

Volkswagen AG Brand Chief Herbert Diess Presents 'VW 2025+' Strategy
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

While China's sustained appetite for new cars has been a boon to many automakers, it's helped some more than others, as scandal-wracked Volkswagen nonetheless managed to wrestle the title of "world's largest automaker" from Toyota in 2016, according to Bloomberg. (Estimating for General Motors, which only releases figures quarterly, Forbes puts the U.S. carmakers figures out of contention, at 9.5 million.)

Thanks to Chinese demand, which has been largely unaffected by the "Dieselgate" scandal in which Volkswagen was caught deliberately using so-called "defeat devices" to fool emissions tests, the German carmaker eked by its Japanese rival by a mere 100,000 vehicles in 2016, delivering 10.3 million vehicles worldwide to Toyota's 10.2 million. The former figure is a record for VW Group; the company's ambitious growth plan was orchestrated at least a decade ago by beleaguered CEO Martin Winterkorn, who may soon come under investigation by German authorities for his role in the scandal.

Volkswagen's meager margin of victory was due in large part to China, which, according to Bloomberg, was both an area of aggressive growth for VW and a drag on rival Toyota, which saw Chinese sales grow at a slower rate than the overall market. And while the United States and Europe, carmaker's two largest markets, were not so forgiving to Volkswagen in the aftermath of Dieselgate, Toyota's best-selling Camry sedan saw sales slowdown in the U.S. 

With President Trump formally abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S. becomes an uncertain market for Toyota going forward, opening the door to further gains by European rivals, including Volkswagen, in 2017.