The thing about leading a race is that someone's always breathing down your neck. For global auto sales leader Toyota, the stalker is Volkswagen -- which could snatch its crown next year, according to the consultants at IHS Automotive. Toyota reclaimed the top spot in sales and production in 2012, when it topped General Motors by selling 9.7 million vehicles and built 9.9 million units.
But Volkswagen Group is on pace to beat Toyota on both counts as early as 2014, IHS analysts said last week at a Tokyo conference.
VW will get a boost from North America, where group sales surged 30 percent to 615,321 vehicles last year.
"Volkswagen is on a very good track now and profiting from their North American engagement," said Henner Lehne, director of global light-vehicle forecasting at IHS.
Lehne's outlook has VW passing Toyota in production in 2014 and maintaining its lead over the industry through 2020. He didn't give an outlook beyond that or specifically forecast sales, but since sales closely track production it's not hard to connect the dots.
Last year VW Group sold a record 9.3 million vehicles worldwide.