TOKYO - Toyota kept its title as the world's biggest automaker on Wednesday as it announced record sales of 10.23 million vehicles last year, outpacing General Motors and Volkswagen, but a shaky outlook for 2015 could see it lose the crown to its German rival.
The worldwide annual sales figure beat Volkswagen, which logged sales of 10.14 million vehicles, and US-based GM, which said it sold 9.92 million cars last year.
But Toyota also said sales would decline this year to an expected 10.15 million vehicles, as demand falls off in its home market.
That will likely mean Volkswagen will be in pole position this year as the German automaker rides momentum in emerging economies that could see it take the lead in global auto sales for the first time.
"Their focus is not No. 1," Peggy Furusaka, an auto-credit analyst at Moody's Investors Service, told Bloomberg News, referring to the Japanese firm.
"Toyota is more concerned about keeping profitability than chasing numbers. So for coming years, I wouldn't be surprised to see Toyota selling fewer cars than VW." Toyota broke GM's decades-long reign as the world's top automaker in 2008 but lost the crown three years later as Japan's earthquake-tsunami disaster hammered production and disrupted the supply chains of the country's automakers.
However, in 2012 it once again overtook its Detroit rival, which sells the Chevrolet and luxury Cadillac brands.
Toyota boosted its fiscal year through March profit forecast to 2.0 trillion yen (S$21.22 billion), and said revenue would come in at 26.5 trillion yen, as it saw strong results in North America while a sharply weaker yen inflated its bottom line.
But it earlier warned over a downturn in some other key Asian markets including Indonesia and Thailand, which has been hammered by political unrest.
There are also growing fears about the entire industry's prospects in China owing to concerns about the health of the world's number-two economy.
Toyota's upbeat announcement on Wednesday comes despite the firm struggling to recover its reputation for safety after the recall of millions of cars around the world for various problems, including an exploding air bag crisis at supplier Takata.
The maker of the Camry sedan and Prius hybrid has frozen the building of new plants for the three years until early 2016, and a Toyota executive at the Detroit auto show told AFP last week that the giant automaker is emphasising quality of sales rather than volume.
Among the moves, Toyota is pushing further into the fast-growing market for environmentally-friendly cars, especially in China where officials are struggling to contain an air pollution crisis.
Toyota said this month it had been swamped by domestic orders for its first mass market hydrogen fuel-cell car, with demand in the first month nearly four times higher than expected for the whole year.
The company received more than 1,500 orders for its "Mirai" sedan since its launch in mid-December. It had planned to sell 400 in Japan over 12 months.
It has also announced plans to develop components for hybrid vehicles with two Chinese automakers in an unprecedented technology-sharing deal aimed at increasing green car sales in the world's biggest vehicle market.
The deal marked a shift away from Japanese carmakers' traditional reluctance over such deals for fear of losing their competitive edge.
Previously, Toyota would make key components such as batteries and motors in high-cost Japan and then ship them to joint ventures overseas. But that drove up the price of models such as its Prius, which has seen sluggish sales in China.
Toyota shares slipped 0.93 per cent to close at 7,588.0 yen in Tokyo, as the broader market fell into negative territory.