Omar Little from HBO’s The Wire once said, “If you come at the king, you best not miss.” That seems to be the message that Toyota is delivering to all of its competitors, as the company just took the crown for the third year in a row.
2014 was once again Toyota’s year, as the company was able to fight off charges from rivals like Volkswagen and General Motors. Bloomberg reports that Toyota’s worldwide sales spiked 3% during 2014 behind sales of 10.23 million vehicles. Hot on its heels was Volkswagen, which sold 10.14 million vehicles, a 4.2% increase, and General Motors, with 9.92 million vehicle sales, a jump of 2.1%.
Toyota’s victory in 2014 likely came from an increased demand in the SUV segment, in which Toyota’s RAV-4 and Highlander were able to soar. In December alone, Toyota saw a surge in sales of 12.7% from December 2013. What was the biggest factor in spurring sales? Toyota executives have favorable economic conditions to thank. “The industry finished last year on a high note thanks to a strong economic tailwind,” said Bill Fay, the Toyota Division Group’s vice president and general manager, in a press release. “That momentum should continue in 2015 and combined with continued strong replacement demand, boost sales further.”
But it wasn’t just Toyota’s flagship name brand that did well. Its luxury line, Lexus, also had a very good year. In December alone, Lexus brought in a record for best any-month sales. “Setting a best-ever, any month sales record in December was a great way to cap our 25th anniversary year,” said Jeff Bracken, the Lexus Group vice president and general manager. “Along with an improving economy and expanding luxury market, it sets the stage for what could be a record year for Lexus dealers in 2015.”
Even with the obvious success Toyota experienced over the past few years, the company is expecting to see sales recede a bit in 2015. Bloomberg reports that Toyota projects a 1% decline in sales this year as it plans to increase domestic production in Japan while also increasing the number of exports headed to other markets.
“Their focus is not No. 1,” Peggy Furusaka, a Moody’s Investors Service analyst, told Bloomberg. “Toyota is more concerned about keeping profitability than chasing numbers. So for coming years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toyota selling fewer cars than VW.”
And Volkswagen has been nipping at Toyota’s heels for a while now. With its armada of small, compact cars and SUVs, VW is well-suited to take on Toyota. As Furusaka said to Bloomberg, 2015 could be the year that it comes out on top. As mentioned above, Volkswagen did sell more than 10 million vehicles last year and improved sales by 4.2%. The Wall Street Journal reports that a good deal of the company’s growth came from China, where sales bumped up 12.4%, and in Europe, where they increased 5.1%.
Citing a company goal to become the world’s largest automaker in sales numbers by 2018, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn said that 2014’s final figures are “impressive confirmation that we are vigorously implementing our Strategy 2018 despite challenging market conditions.”
Despite the company’s overall success, North America and Latin America were a different story, where sales dropped by 2% and 19.8%, respectively. But that doesn’t mean Volkswagen is giving up. New products are in line for market releases soon, including a few new SUVs, which should help win over American consumers. “As we kick off 2015, we are encouraged that the vehicles have been well received by both the automotive press and our dealers,” said Volkswagen of America COO Mark McNabb.
2014’s third-place finisher, General Motors, may have had the most impressive year of all auto companies. Considering that last year started off with a slew of product recalls, affecting millions of vehicles and running the company’s name through the mud, GM had a comeback for the ages.
Last year marked CEO Mary Barra’s first at General Motors’ helm, and it started as ugly as any in recent automotive history. Despite the troubled first six months, GM pulled through in the end, setting a second consecutive year of record global sales. “It was a year of great disappointment, but also great progress,” said Barra, per The New York Times.
General Motors’ strong year was powered by the popularity of the Silverado pickup line, as well as the company’s SUVs and midsize pickups. “GM is making solid progress and has good momentum. Our customer focus, the new cars, trucks and crossovers we launched in China and North America, technologies like OnStar with 4G LTE and the revitalization underway at Opel helped us achieve another record year, despite very challenging market conditions in different parts of the world,” said Barra, reflecting on the company’s business year.
Even as GM separated itself as the biggest and baddest American automaker last year, the company couldn’t keep up with the likes of Toyota and Volkswagen. Though Toyota is expecting a retraction in sales next year, it’s unclear at this point what General Motors and Volkswagen are thinking might happen, though Volkswagen most definitely has its eyes on the crown. GM does, too, although it has more ground to make up and is still in the process of building market share in areas like China and Europe.
Toyota has assumed the automotive throne for the third straight year, but with 2015 officially upon us, its number may soon be up.