Volkswagen May Be World's Largest Automaker

Volkswagen may have passed Toyota to be the world's largest automaker in sales last quarter, because of higher demand in its main markets, Reuters reported Friday, citing partial company data.

Volkswagen, with its nine car and truck brands, increased sales in China, Germany and Brazil, which accounted for 44 percent of its total last year, the report said, without providing sales figures.

The automaker is said to be benefiting from economic stimulus plans that have boosted sales in several countries "making it more likely that it beat Toyota or at least came close," the report found.

In the first quarter of this year, Toyota’s sales dropped 36 percent in the U.S., and 31 percent for its Toyota- brand cars in Japan, the report said. The U.S. and Japan — which have been crippled by a deepening recession and credit crunch — account for about half of Toyota’s total sales.

Toyota estimated its shipments fell 47 percent to 1.23 million vehicles in the three months ended March 31, the report said. Volkswagen delivered 1.57 million vehicles in the first quarter in 2008, compared with Toyota’s 2.41 million in the same period, Reuters said.

"Volkswagen is a big competitor for Toyota," an auto analyst at Credit Suisse in Tokyo said. "Audi is strong, Volkswagen is strong, and they're making good use of their small cars."

The automakers are expected to disclose their worldwide first-quarter vehicle sales over the next week.

R.L. Polk Germany, a market research firm, predicted earlier this month that Volkswagen would overtake GM as the world's second-largest automaker, which is suffering steep losses amid growing bankruptcy fears.