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[TOKYO] Toyota is in danger of losing its crown as the world's biggest automaker this year as sales fall behind those of German rival Volkswagen, new figures showed Thursday.
The Japanese giant, which has held the title for four years running, was outsold by Volkswagen in the first half of 2016, as key North American sales fell and disaster-linked factory stoppages hit production.
The Camry and Prius maker sold 4.99 million vehicles in the six months through June, edging down from a year earlier.
Volkswagen sold 5.12 million vehicles globally in the same period, also ahead of third-placed General Motors which moved 4.76 million vehicles.
The German automaker had pulled ahead of Toyota in the first half of 2015 as well, until a massive emissions cheating scandal dented sales.
This year, Toyota saw first-half unit sales fall in North America - a key market - while US sales of its popular Prius hybrid fell by one-quarter.
The company was also hit by plant shutdowns linked to deadly earthquakes in Japan earlier this year.
Toyota previously warned that its annual net profit will fall as a stronger yen, and a slowdown in Chinese growth and other emerging markets, dent its bottom line.
Toyota, among other major automakers, has also been struggling to recover a reputation for safety after the recall of millions of cars around the world for various problems, including a deadly exploding air bag crisis at supplier Takata.
In 2008, Toyota broke GM's decades-long reign as the world's top automaker but lost the crown three years later as Japan's 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster hammered production and disrupted the supply chains of the country's automakers.
In 2012, Toyota again overtook its Detroit rival, which sells the Chevrolet and luxury Cadillac brands, to grab the top spot globally.