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VW passes Toyota as stoppages threaten four-year sales reign

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Volkswagen AG pulled ahead of Toyota Motor Corp's global deliveries during the first quarter, as a series of production stoppages at home threaten the Japanese automaker's four-year reign atop auto industry sales charts.

[TOKYO] Volkswagen AG pulled ahead of Toyota Motor Corp's global deliveries during the first quarter, as a series of production stoppages at home threaten the Japanese automaker's four-year reign atop auto industry sales charts.

Toyota's worldwide sales fell 2.3 per cent to 2.46 million vehicles in the January-to-March period, spokeswoman Kayo Doi said by phone Tuesday. Volkswagen said earlier this month its deliveries rose 0.8 per cent to 2.5 million, while General Motors Co's sales dropped 2.5 per cent to 2.36 million.

Already handicapped by a one-week stoppage at domestic assembly plants in February, Toyota anticipates losing output of another 80,000 vehicles from shutdowns caused by Japan's most devastating earthquakes since March 2011.

The lost production will test Toyota's ability to extend to five years its streak as the world's top-selling automaker, with growth in China and Europe buoying Volkswagen amid the worst crisis in its history.

"This has impacted multiple parts, models and plants," Hiroji Onishi, a Toyota senior managing officer, told reporters Sunday in Beijing, ahead of China's biggest auto show.

"All effort is being made now to grasp the current situation and build the recovery plan."

Volkswagen boosted deliveries by 6.4 per cent in China and 3.5 per cent in Western Europe during the first three months of the year. The company has set aside 16.2 billion euros (S$24.72 billion) to cover the costs of its emissions-cheating scandal, a sum that would render passing Toyota a hollow victory.

More attention has turned to carmakers' compliance with fuel economy and emissions standards rather than sales achievements in the wake of Volkswagen's admission in September that it equipped diesel engines with software that circumvented US law.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp said last week it manipulated testing figures and overstated fuel economy of Japan minicars. Daimler AG investigated the emissions certification process of its cars following a request by the US Department of Justice, while fraud investigators raided French manufacturer PSA Group.

Toyota on Monday began to restart assembly lines halted after earthquakes on Kyushu island in southern Japan, with more output resuming in phases through Thursday, according to an April 20 statement.

Stoppages in February linked to an explosion and fire at a plant run by affiliate Aichi Steel Corp disrupted engine, transmission and chassis component supply. Toyota's production that month plunged 17 per cent to 298,839 vehicles.

BLOOMBERG