Press Nearly Mum As VW Displaces GM As World's Number Two Automaker

January 31st, 2014 4:58 PM

In yet another negative milestone for the bailouts that supposedly saved the U.S. auto industry — already a hard-to-handle claim given that Chrysler, one of the two beneficiaries, is now 100% owned by an Italian company — Volkswagen has surpassed General Motors as the world's number two automaker behind Toyota.

The reporting on this development has been quite sparse. It's not news at the Associated Press's national site, even though AP mentions VW in a report on Super Bowl ad and social media strategies. At USA Today, James R. Healey's could easily have inserted the news into his story today on the 65th anniversary of the VW Beetle's first arrival here, and didn't. What follows is an excerpt from Expatica, one of the few publications to note the shakeup in the auto industry hierarchy:

VW overtakes General Motors as world's number 2 car maker

Germany's Volkswagen overtook US rival General Motors to become the world's second-biggest car maker after Japanese giant Toyota, last year sales figures showed on Friday.

The German group said that it sold a total of 9.73 million vehicles in 2013.

That figures covers all 12 of VW's brands, including truck makers MAN and Scania, a spokesman explained. "These are the definitive of all our brands. They are comparable with our rivals, who also include heavy trucks," he said.

Toyota sold a total 9.98 million vehicles last year and General Motors a total 9.71 million.

A January 2012 column by Micheline Maynard at Forbes indicates that GM was number one just two years ago. In hindsight, it's clear that Ms. Maynard was clearly overexuberant about the result:

GM said Thursday that it sold 9.025 million vehicles in 2011. That would put it first among global carmakers, ahead of Volkswagen, with sales of 8.015 million, according to The New York Times.

Toyota, which has been No. 1 since 2008, hasn’t officially announced its 2011 numbers. But it estimates that it sold 7.9 million vehicles last year, when its performance was battered by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, floods in Thailand, and the lingering impact of millions of recalls.

What does GM get from the number one spot? Bragging rights, certainly, although so far it isn’t trumpeting the victory. The sales numbers were camouflaged in a press release about Chevrolet.

Victories like this are balm for dealers, suppliers and everyone else associated with an auto company, not to mention the Obama Administration. It rolled the dice on the $82 billion bailout for the auto industry, including the managed bankruptcies at GM and Chrysler, and still owns a chunk of GM stock.

And, GM returns to its place in history. It ranked as the world’s biggest automaker for more than 70 years, since it passed Ford during the Great Depression.

Trends would now seem to indicate that those glory days aren't returning any time soon.

A relevant search at Google News indicates that there are about a dozen stories on VW's displacement of GM. Four of them are at U.S. establishment press outlets two at Bloomberg News entities, one at the Detroit News, and another at the Chicago Tribune via Reuters.

The Detroit News's David Shepardson threw cold water on the news, because "The German automaker’s tally includes heavy-duty truck sales from its MAN SE and Scania AB units, so some still say GM is the second-best selling automaker among light-duty vehicles."

The Reuters report at the Tribune notes that "Toyota regained the top spot in world auto sales charts in 2012, after slipping to third place behind GM and Volkswagen in 2011, following natural disasters in Japan and Thailand." In other words, the main reason (there's another in the next paragraph) that GM got to Number One at all was because of natural disaster-related problems at Toyota.

But Reuters also failed to note that one of the reasons for Toyota's difficulties during that period involved undue harassment by the U.S. goverment, with eager establishment press assistance, in overhyping and mischaracterizing the company's reaction to government recall-related demands in early 2010.

Cross-posted at