Volkswagen has defied its emissions testing scandal to become the world’s largest automotive manufacturer for the first time in history, surpassing Toyota.

VW Group built 10.31 million vehicles in 2016, overtaking Toyota’s 10.18 million. The VW figure includes brands it owns such as Audi, Porsche, Skoda, Bentley and SEAT.

Toyota had held top spot since 2012.

A massive growth spike of 12 per cent in China to almost four million sales led to overall growth of 3.8 per cent for the German car maker in 2016, while Toyota sales grew by just 0.2 per cent.

VW also enjoyed four per cent growth in Europe, but suffered a two per cent decline in the US.

VW Group Chief Executive, Matthias Müller, said the result gave VW stability into the future.
“Our present vehicles’ success is the basis for our intensified efforts as regards the major future technologies: e-mobility, autonomous driving and digitalisation,” he said.

Sales in China are expected to slow in 2017. Consumers there expected tax breaks on small cars to expire at the end of last year and therefore rushed to purchase; however, Chinese authorities have since extended the tax breaks into 2017. Nonetheless, analysts do not expect VW or other manufacturers to match last year’s results in China.

VW’s strong result in China came about largely because it hardly sells any diesel vehicles there, thus the world’s most populous nation was unaffected by the emissions scandal that has plagued VW in other parts of the world.

Having reached number one, VW might not necessarily stay there. Becoming number one was an obsession of former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, who was forced to resign over the emissions scandal. Dietmar Voggenreiter, Sales Chief at VW-owned Audi, said the company’s strategy through to 2025 does not include sales targets.

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