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Battle for global sales podium intensifies

Global sales figures show competition among world’s biggest car-makers is heating up

7 Feb 2022

TOYOTA’S position as the world’s biggest maker of cars is seemingly unassailable, with a total of 10,495,548 cars built in 2021 across the Toyota empire – including its Lexus subsidiary – there was plenty of daylight between it and the second-placed Volkswagen Group.


Volkswagen delivered 8,882,000 vehicles across the VW, Skoda, Seat, Audi and Porsche brands, including a couple of thousand trucks from its MAN and Scania subsidiaries.


But it is the fight for the bronze medal that could be the most interesting in the years ahead. While the positions of Toyota and Volkswagen at the pointy end of the sales charts is a foregone conclusion, there is some hot competition brewing behind them.


For 2021, it was the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance that clinched third place. With 7,681,057 units sold across all brands, it could not quite push up close enough to Volkswagen to worry the German giant, though it enjoys a safe position – for now.


Behind it, Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) reported 6,668,037 global sales across Hyundai, Kia and Genesis – nearly a million off the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi triumvirate – but that gap may close this year.


In January, HMG issued a forecast that global sales for Kia and Hyundai will jump by 12.1 per cent in 2022 due to an anticipated increase in computer chip supply. It brings the target for this year to 7.47 million cars which, if achieved, would push close to the Franco-Japanese alliance – and possibly overtake if the latter encounters a soft year of sales.


Stellantis is another dark horse. The mega-merger that consolidated the Euro-centric brands of Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Opel, Peugeot, Citroen, DS, Lancia, Vauxhall and Maserati with North American icons Chrysler, Jeep, Ram and Dodge is still very young, having only formally kicked in in mid-January 2021, but global sales tallied 6.4 million units last year – a respectable result that makes it the world’s fifth-biggest car-maker.


Stellantis also generated AU$20.66 billion in profit in just under a year, off net revenues across all of its brands of AU$234.47 billion.


Furthermore, the group also managed to dethrone Volkswagen Group from the position of top car-maker in the European market. Though the delta between both groups was reportedly just 693 vehicles (according to analytics firm Dataforce), the news that VW had been relegated to second place in its home region would have not gone down well in Wolfsburg.


If Stellantis is successful in coordinating its vast line-up of brands and structuring its business to limit sales cannibalisation and improve conquest, it too could have a legitimate shot at the bronze medal.


General Motors also hovers nearby – it delivered some 6.29 million cars globally last year, though having all but exited the European market its prospects of climbing further up the global sales totem appear limited.


However, the new race – and one that is arguably harder to win – regards which company can churn out the most battery-electric cars. With the increasing adoption of anti-combustion legislation, obtaining leadership in the EV space will be critical to the long-term survival of any car-maker.


Volkswagen fared well in this regard, its hard pivot toward electrification resulting in around double the amount of EVs delivered in 2021 than 2020, with a total of 452,900 all-electric vehicles from the group sold across all markets – with the VW ID.4 and ID.3 doing much of the heavy lifting, but helped out by the Audi e-tron, Porsche Taycan and Skoda Enyaq iV. 


Toyota, meanwhile, has recently shifted its attitude toward battery-electric vehicles. Whereas the Japanese giant previously saw EVs as an emissions solution that had limited applications (primarily as a compact city car) and instead favoured hydrogen, the company has now pledged to have 15 pure-electric models on sale globally by 2025.


The latter half of the decade will see meteoric increases in electrified products. Volkswagen will introduce its SSP scalable electric architecture in 2026, which will reportedly be able to underpin virtually any vehicle type from sub-compact city cars all the way to supercars – the power limit of SSP is claimed to be a whopping 850kW.


Yet the biggest battleground will be securing enough raw material supply – though rather than silicon wafers, it’ll be lithium carbonate. While lithium, a key ingredient for EV batteries, was in a glut a few years ago, that situation has well and truly reversed, with the world’s car-makers scrambling to arrange partnerships with mines and battery manufacturers to ensure supply lines can accommodate their electrification plans.


The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance has certainly kept that at the front of its mind, with plans for a new EV-centric manufacturing facility in Northern France to be run by Renault, while Nissan is taking the lead on development of solid-state battery technology. The Alliance is also well advanced in negotiations with suppliers to ratchet down battery costs, with a target of reducing the price of energy storage by 50 percent in 2026, and 65 percent by 2028.

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