General Motors (NYSE:GM) this week hoisted a championship banner proclaiming its return to the rank of world’s No. 1 automaker. For 2011, GM’s sales rose 7.6% to 9.03 million vehicles worldwide. That was more than enough to wrest the title back from Toyota (NYSE:TM), which has held it since 2008. In fact, for 2011, Toyota slipped all the way to No. 4 with Volkswagen (PINK:VLKAY) barging into second place and the Nissan-Renault (PINK:NSANY) combo pulling into third.
Toyota was clearly knocked down by the aftershocks of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami last year, but it vows to come back strong in 2012, with a forecast for 8.48 million vehicles sold. Nissan’s factories were located further from the worst damage and fared far better than rival Toyota’s.
Volkswagen continued its assault on the global sales leader spot, tallying 8.16 million vehicles, up a robust 11% from 2010. As the Associated Press points out, Volkwagen could even be considered the world leader now if the calculations exclude GM’s China production from a joint venture with Wuling because GM doesn’t own a controlling interest in that venture.
It’s unclear at this point where GM’s top domestic rival, Ford (NYSE:F) will stand because it hasn’t yet reported total global sales for 2011. Its U.S. sales were up 11% last year, and even in struggling Europe, Ford showed a 2.4% increase.
As GM CEO Dan Akerson has pointed out, who’s No. 1 doesn’t matter if profits don’t follow. But it sure is a better sign than falling a lap behind the leaders – where GM clearly was not long ago.