The "world's best-selling vehicle nameplate" has a nice ring to it, and last week Ford laid claim to that title in 2012, just as it had for 2011.
But Toyota would have none of it, claiming that its Corolla was the real No. 1.
Who is right? A definitive answer is hard to come by because it depends on the definition of "nameplate," which body styles or derivatives are included and who's doing the counting. In short, both companies have a case.
"According to Polk global new-vehicle registration data, the Ford Focus is the best-selling global vehicle nameplate," says Erich Merkle, Ford's top sales analyst.
But Dion Corbett, a Toyota spokesman in Tokyo, says, "Our understanding is that the Corolla is the best-selling vehicle."
The only thing at stake is bragging rights -- and the Focus and Corolla are both selling quite well.
The flap started last week when Ford Motor Co. issued a press release citing Polk data that said the "Ford Focus nameplate" led the world in 2012 global vehicle registrations.
Media reports noted that by Polk's count, Focus volume rose to 1,020,410 units in 2012 on gains in China and the United States, more than the 872,774 units for the Corolla.
Ford declined to disclose its internal count of Focus sales, citing only Polk data.
Toyota took issue, claiming that it sold 1,160,764 Corollas last year.
Polk is sticking to the numbers Ford cited.
The difference in the totals is "related to the definition of nameplate," said Anthony Pratt, Polk vice president of forecasting. "On the Focus, Ford adhered to the one-name 'nameplate' definition." In totaling Corolla registrations, Pratt said, Ford "didn't include any rebadged vehicles, platform derivatives or nameplate versions."
That is, Ford excluded Corollas with different body styles that carry two-word names such as Corolla Rumion, a tall hatchback sold in Japan.
Toyota's own figures exclude 172,730 sales of Corolla-based vehicles such as the Auris hatchback and Auris hybrid sold in Europe, Japan, Africa and Central and South America; the Matrix and Scion xB hatchback sold in North America; the Verso wagon sold in Japan, Africa and South America; the Rukis minivan sold throughout the South Pacific; and the E'Z minivan sold in China.
Pratt says Polk's figures are based on new-vehicle registrations from 80-plus countries and represent 97 percent of global new-vehicle volume. He added that Polk may use sales data in countries where registration information is unavailable.
There are other complexities in scoring the global sales race.
For instance, global manufacturers often use the same name for a new-generation vehicle sold in developed markets and the carryover old-generation model sold in price-sensitive markets. Toyota renamed its 10th-generation Corolla the Auris in western Europe while it continued selling the ninth generation in central Europe as the Corolla.
Ford sells two generations of the Focus in China, the current Focus sold in the United States and the former Focus, called the Focus Classic.
Also, sales and registrations are not identical. There may be a time lapse between purchase and being registered.
So which is No. 1?
Focus is "the best-selling global vehicle nameplate," Ford's Merkle says. "This is based on approved global new-vehicle nameplate registration data from Polk, a third-party source."
No, "Corolla is the best-selling vehicle," Toyota's Corbett says.
"We just want the truth to be out there, "Corbett adds. "But our intent is not to be No. 1. Our intent is to make good cars that people want to buy. Being No. 1 is not the goal -- it's the result."
Hans Greimel and Luca Ciferri contributed to this report