Over the last several years, few automotive stories have held as much interest as the global fight between Toyota and General Motors for worldwide sales supremacy. Don't look now, but there's a new combatant hailing from Germany ready to take the reigns: Volkswagen. However, VW's ascendancy has less to do with the German automaker's output -- GM and Toyota are shedding sales at a much faster rate than VW.

Toyota – currently the undisputed leader in automotive sales volume – is expected to post about 1.23 million sales in the first quarter of '09, down an amazing 47% from the previous year. Volkswagen's 1.39 million sales represent a much smaller drop of about 11%. We're not yet sure where General Motors will fall in the rankings, but it seems likely to come in third place. What's caused VW's rapid rise in global prominence?

The two largest markets for Toyota are the United States and Japan, and vehicle sales in both countries have been some of the hardest hit by the global economic downturn. In contrast, VeeDub is very strong in Germany, China and Brazil, and, in attempt to boost new car sales, these three countries have recently implemented vehicle scrapping schemes. It's worked, and VW is reaping the rewards.

Of course, if there's one thing that General Motors and Toyota have proven over these last few years, it's that life's not easy at the top. It should prove interesting to see if VW can manage to maintain the market share that it's so recently inherited. Thanks for the tip, Axel!

[Source: Reuters]