Although there were hints and allegations that the Volkswagen Group might have taken the global sales crown for 2014, the final tally puts Toyota at the top with 10.23 million sales in 2014. We should really say it keeps Toyota at the top, since that makes three years in a row the Japanese company has been No. 1. Volkswagen Group came in second with 10.14 million units sold, General Motors in third with 9.92 million units sold.

This the first time for both Toyota and Volkswagen to pass 10 million sales in a single year. Toyota, including its Hino and Daihatsu divisions, did it with a three-percent increase in company-wide sales on the back of strong demand in Japan and the US. Its strength in developed markets might be the reason it loses the title this year, though; Toyota forecasts a two-percent gain in sales outside of Japan, but a nine-percent drop in its home market because of a new consumption tax that encouraged buyers to purchase before the end of last year. On top of that, turmoil in Southeast Asian economies like Thailand and Indonesia depressed sales in 2014 and they're facing more headwinds. The company envisions 10.15 million sales in 2015.

Volkswagen, on the other hand, "has a jet engine strapped to its back called 'China,'" where Toyota is out-of-sorts. Volkswagen Group sales fell 2.9 percent in the US last year, while Toyota gained 6.2 percent here. But Volkswagen roped in 3.7 million sales in China, a 12-percent increase. Toyota enjoyed a huge bump of 12.5 percent in China, but that only got it to 1.03 million units, missing its yearly target and leading to trouble with its Chinese dealers over unsold inventory.

With Toyota on the Chinese sidelines while Volkswagen guns for No. 1 status and pledges more production capacity in China – sales there are expected to top 25 million units this year – it looks like this could be the year the VW Group takes over the lead. That would be three years ahead of its original target of 2018. An analyst in Japan said Toyota is more focused on "keeping profitability than chasing numbers" – profitability is an issue for VW right now – so Toyota might not be back at the top "for [the] coming years."

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