Volkswagen beats GM, Toyota world sales for 2011; first global win for VW

Volkswagen's logo.
Volkswagen's logo.

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) – The headlines from most media are declaring that General Motors jumped back to the lead of worldwide vehicle sales in 2011, but analysts say that is not actually true.

GM, which had the title for 70 years until 2008, lost it in the worldwide financial crisis that followed. GM became partially government-owned with a $49.5 billion bailout and  taxpayers are still out about $25.5 billion, according to CNNMoney.

But, everyone loves a comeback story, so it comes as little surprise that there are GM cheerleaders, who might want to prop up the company in hopes of national pride -- or one day getting their money back.

There are more than 500 Google listings for news stories declaring GM the winner, but buried in those stories is the fact GM is counting a partially-own company in its sales, pushing it higher.

However, the true global sales winner in 2011 was a first-timer to the top of the heap: Volkswagen.

Toyota was the winner in 2010, but the tragic natural disaster in Japan cut into sales, which came in at 7.9 million vehicles.

VW, which saw China emerge as a market as large as Europe for the first time, reported 8.156 million vehicles sold in 2011 under all of its owned brands including: SEAT, Audi, Lamborgini, Bentley and Skoda.

GM is expected to sell just under 8 million vehicles through subsidiaries that it actually owns – and that's not a typo. You see, nearly all news outlets are reporting GM, which will release sales figures later this month, sold 9 million vehicles – so why the discrepancy?

Well, GM is counting 1.2 million cars that has sold in China through a 3-way joint venture – in which it does not have a controlling interest. So, those sales in the SAIC-GM-Wuling company aren't really GM's to claim, many analysts say.

"GM counts sales of the Wuling Unit that consolidate under SAIC, not GM for ownership," said Jeff Schuster, a senior vice president for LMC Automotive, formerly JD Powers Automotive Foreasting.

VW doesn't count vehicles produced by joint-ventures in which it is a minority owner-- such a Suzuki (of which it owns 20 percent.)

Many auto analysts refuse to count the GM-Wuling cars because GM is not a controlling owner, the Associated Press reported this week.

Schuster agrees.

"We do not count Wuling as part of GM," the Troy, Michigan, based analyst told WBTV.

Schuster even goes a stop further making it clear who is #1: "Without Wuling, GM would be number two in global sales behind VW group."

And, there is also the other side of the coin: if GM can count sales of a co-owned company it doesn't fully control, why couldn't Volkswagen?

If VW did that, it would gain about 118,000 units from Porsche and at least 2 million from Suzuki – which sold 2.5 million cars in 2010 and will likely be at that number again when it reports final 2011 numbers.

Taking all of each company's vehicles from the above-mentioned minority-owned ventures, VW still comes out ahead with 10.2 million vs. GM's "Wuling" number at 9 million (the popular number that is counting Wuling cars.)

Copyright 2012 WBTV.