Toyota retains top-seller title; Fiat turns to Jeeps

The Associated Press

TOKYO — Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it sold 10.151 million vehicles in 2015, retaining its status as the world’s top-selling automaker for the fourth straight year.

The sales figure compared with 2015 sales of 9.93 million vehicles for Volkswagen AG and 9.8 million for General Motors.

Toyota, which makes the Prius hybrid, Camry sedan and Lexus luxury models, has forecast sales at 10.114 million vehicles in 2016. Its actual sales in 2015 beat its forecast for sales of 10.098 million vehicles.

Volkswagen AG, which overtook Toyota in sales in the first half of the year, suffered in the second half from an emissions cheating scandal involving diesel cars.

Auto sales in major markets such as the U.S. and Japan have slowed, while emerging markets that had sustained growth in recent years, such as Thailand and Indonesia, have weakened.

In 2014, Toyota sold 10.23 million vehicles, Volkswagen sold 10.14 million vehicles, and General Motors was third at 9.92 million vehicles.

Detroit-based GM, which makes Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Buicks and Opels, was the top-selling automaker for more than seven decades until being surpassed by Toyota in 2008.

GM retook the sales crown for one year in 2011, when a tsunami and quake disaster struck northeastern Japan, disrupting production.

Fiat: In other auto news Wednesday, Fiat Chrysler predicts Jeep sales will nearly double to 2 million worldwide by 2018, fueled by low gas prices and new models. To keep up, the Italian-American carmaker plans to cut production of small cars in the U.S. so it can build more Jeeps.

The world’s seventh-largest carmaker raised its Jeep sales targets Wednesday after releasing disappointing full-year earnings for 2015. Fiat Chrysler reported 2015 net profit of 377 million euros ($409 million), down from 632 million euros a year earlier and lagging analyst expectations. Fourth-quarter net profit fell 40 percent to 251 million euros.

Jeep was the bright spot. Fiat Chrysler sold 1.3 million Jeeps worldwide in 2015, up 21 percent from the previous year. Without Jeep, Fiat Chrysler’s sales were lackluster. The company sold 4.6 million vehicles overall, up slightly from 2014.

Takata: Also Wednesday, another death has been reported in a crash that involved an exploding Takata air bag inflator, but it’s unclear whether the inflator killed the person.

The driver of a 2007 Honda Civic died last year in India, according to Takata documents posted Wednesday by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An inflator exploded in the crash, spraying metal fragments, but authorities in India have not determined the cause of death, according to the documents.

If the inflator was the cause, it would be the 11th person killed worldwide by Takata air bags in a crisis that seems to grow larger every day. But Honda spokesman Chris Martin says Indian authorities found that other injuries from a high-speed crash were the most likely cause of the driver’s death.

The death also raises questions about the safety of the 2007 Civic worldwide. Martin said both the driver and passenger air bag inflators ruptured in the India crash. The 2007 Civic’s inflators haven’t been recalled yet in the U.S., but could be part of a larger recall announced last week by NHTSA. The 2007 inflators are different from those used in India, he said.

On Wednesday, Takata filed paperwork detailing recalls of about 5.1 million vehicles made by Audi, BMW, Daimler Trucks, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Saab, Toyota and Volkswagen. Automakers are scrambling to figure out what models have the recalled inflators, and they’re expected to file papers with further details soon. Toyota says it already has recalled all the suspect inflators.