VW zooms past Toyota for sales champ

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KAI RYSSDAL: The new CEO of General Motors, Fritz Henderson, has changed more than just the nameplates on the executive suite. Henderson held another press conference today. His second in as many weeks. Once again he said a bankruptcy filing by what used to be the world's top-selling carmaker is, quote, "probable."

Toyota, the company that bumped GM out of the top spot, is having troubles of its own. Car sales here and in Japan have stalled. But Volkswagen is in a pretty good spot. VW's first quarter sales actually beat Toyota's, putting it at number one for the quarter. Marketplace's Janet Babin has more now from North Carolina Public Radio.


Janet Babin: Come on? Volkswagen? The world's top selling automaker? That sounds impossible.

Last year, Toyota crushed VW, selling almost 3 million more cars and trucks. But in the first quarter, Volkswagen sold more vehicles than Toyota even estimates it shipped. Analyst John Wolkonowicz at IHS Global Insight calls it a fluke.

John Wolkonowicz: In today's market, these numbers don't mean anything. Everything's upside down. So we're just seeing some unusual market trends.

VW is bit player in the U.S. But from the luxury Audi to the economic Golf, VW sales are thriving in Germany and in China.

Auto analyst Tony Faria at the University of Windsor says VW is also gaining market share in South America.

Tony Faria: Volkswagen is fortunate to be strong in several of the very few markets globally that are actually growing.

Even in Russia, where demand for cars and trucks has dropped more than a third, VW has made double-digit sales gains. But Peter DeLorenzo with AutoExtremist.com says VW's success is really about Toyota's implosion.

Peter DeLorenzo: They got too aggressive in their plans to be the dominant global player. And they suffer from over-capacity. And with the global downturn, they are suffering tremendously.

Few analysts, though, believe that VW will be number one in sales for the year.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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