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These are the 10 Biggest Automakers in the World

Here’s a look at the 10 major players based on their worldwide sales volumes in 2018
Mark Toljagic
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Whoever said good things come in small packages wasn’t talking about the auto industry.

Think you know your car companies? A glance at the 10 largest global automakers today reveals unfamiliar conglomerates that formed as automakers linked together to share technology and costs in a sector grappling with too many factories producing too many vehicles.

The automotive industry requires massive economies of scale to afford the research and development needed to roll out new models and stay competitive. After record sales in recent years, manufacturers are now scrambling to absorb slumping sales and manage the transition to electric and automated vehicles.

Here’s a look at the 10 major players based on their worldwide sales volumes in 2018, as well as how they’re coping in the current economic climate in 2019. Sales figures are tricky to pin down – different manufacturers report numbers differently – so totals shown may include automobiles and light trucks, but not heavy commercial vehicles.

Volkswagen Group – 10.8 million

With 10 brands under its roof, this isn’t your father’s Volkswagen company. Included in the vast VW portfolio are Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Skoda, SEAT, Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini, as well as MAN and Scania heavy trucks. To counter the lingering diesel scandal, VW has brought some lustre back to its brands by investing in new electric models that are gracing auto show turntables.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Still, the group is facing challenges in the all-important China market these days, where passenger-vehicle sales are forecast to drop by 4 million units in 2019, as well as sagging prospects in Spain and Brexit-wracked Britain. On the other hand, VW Group vehicle deliveries have improved in Brazil and Russia, and its redesigned North American-sized sport utilities are gaining traction here.

Toyota – 10.5 million

Japan’s largest automaker markets its Toyota, Lexus and Daihatsu automobile brands across the globe, in addition to its growing Hino truck line. It frequently challenges VW Group for the biggest automaker crown and sometimes prevails, especially when commercial vehicles are taken out of the equation. Make no mistake, the Toyota squiggle in the world’s best-selling automobile brand all on its own.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Toyota is the only manufacturer on this list to see its sales rise globally so far in 2019, if only marginally. It has good numbers coming out of China and Thailand, while facing headwinds in Indonesia and Australia. In the latest report provided by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, Toyota’s Canadian sales have blossomed by 5.3 per cent in 2019 – the only major manufacturer, besides Hyundai, to see growth in what is turning out to be a challenging year.

Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance – 10.3 million

France’s Renault and Japan’s Nissan became strategic partners in 1999, adding Mitsubishi in 2016 to form a three-way alliance that controls 10 distinct automotive brands: Renault, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Infiniti, Samsung Motors, Dacia, Datsun, Alpine, Venucia and Lada. Mitsubishi is enjoying resurging sales, which is adding to the alliance’s success. Together the new auto group sold more than 10 million vehicles in 2018, making it one of the planet’s Big Three automakers.

Biggest Automakers in the World

However, the alliance may see its fortunes reverse this year with declining Nissan sales in the U.S., Japan and, most recently, in Canada. Significantly, the conglomeration may even unravel as Renault tries to revive merger talks with Italy’s Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Reportedly, the $35-billion marriage may hinge on the French carmaker cutting its stake in Nissan, a prospect that hasn’t won over the French government, which owns shares in Renault.

General Motors – 8.7 million

Historically, Detroit’s General Motors had been the uncontested giant of the industry, thanks in part to its affiliates in Germany (Opel), the U.K. (Vauxhall), Australia (Holden), Sweden (Saab) and South Korea (Daewoo). But its 2009 bankruptcy and bailout saw GM euthanize some of its domestic brands, including Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer, and, more recently, divest itself of Opel/Vauxhall, which was absorbed by France’s PSA in 2017.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Today GM has Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC Truck in its North American portfolio, as well as Holden in Australia. It partnered with Ravon, Wuling, and Baojun when it bet heavily on the Chinese market – a good strategy until things started going south there recently. Public anger over General Motors’ plans to shutter the historic Oshawa assembly plant may have been a factor in GM’s estimated 12 per cent decline in Canadian sales this year.

Hyundai Motor Group – 7.5 million

Hyundai Motor Group became a major global player when South Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai, purchased controlling interest in the country’s second-largest manufacturer, Kia, during the Asian financial crisis in 1998. The takeover led to beneficial synergies between the two automakers that led to them sharing drivetrains, platforms and related technologies. Recently the amalgamation spawned the Genesis luxury brand, which has already won some well-deserved attention.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Hyundai Group had experienced considerable growth, followed by teething pains as some new assembly plants did not live up to expectations. The year 2017 was a dark spot in terms of its global sales, a setback it’s been working to rectify. Canadian sales have been a bright spot by comparison, up about 4 per cent in 2019. By contrast, China sales have been disappointing. Hyundai is betting its new pickup truck will contribute to its bottom line.

Ford – 5.7 million

Some might be surprised to see this American powerhouse ranked this low among the world’s largest automakers. After all, Henry Ford set the industry standard by adopting the assembly line and efficient labour management practices a century ago. Travellers see the trademark blue oval adorning cars and trucks in every nation on the planet. Ford had dabbled with foreign acquisitions such as Jaguar and Land Rover in the past, but today it’s the custodian of only two brands: Ford and Lincoln.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Ford has become synonymous with trucks and SUVs in North America, even going so far as to announce it is curtailing automobile production here. Elsewhere, its pint-sized Fiesta hatchback is one of the best-selling cars in the world. However, Ford’s sales are declining significantly this year, especially in markets like China and the U.K. By comparison, Canadian sales have dipped only marginally during the first half of 2019.

Honda Motor Group – 5.2 million

By one measure, Honda is the largest engine manufacturer in the world – if you count all the motorcycles, marine engines and lawnmowers it produces, in addition to its cars and light trucks branded as both Honda and Acura, depending on the market. By another measure, it’s scarcely mid-pack in the ranking, though it got there by selling a lot of a relatively limited range of small cars and crossovers.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Its Civic automobile and CR-V crossover have won legions of fans for their reliability and Honda lightness of being, and the Jazz hatchback (Fit to us) is a staple in many of the world’s auto markets. Unlike some Japanese automakers, Honda has made great inroads in the Chinese market and is seeing growth this year, while it has recorded a steep decline in sales in Indonesia. Sales of Honda and Acura models in Canada have slid almost 4 per cent so far this year.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – 4.8 million

Toronto-educated businessman Sergio Marchionne orchestrated the salvation of an ailing Chrysler Corporation during the Great Recession of 2009, when he engineered the takeover of the Detroit-based company as it emerged from bankruptcy protection. Fiat and Chrysler completed their merger under Marchionne’s leadership in 2014. Today it’s an amalgam of several brands, including Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Abarth, Lancia and Maserati.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Like Ford, FCA’s North American operations have largely relied on an ever-expanding lineup of light trucks and SUVs to keep the company relevant, while retiring its uncompetitive automobiles. A key strength is its Jeep franchise, which has been a reliable source of profits. In Canada FCA has seen declining sales this year, despite the introduction of an all-new Ram 1500 pickup truck. Watch for FCA to merge with Renault – a story that comes full circle after Chrysler purchased the remnants of American Motors from Renault in 1987.

Groupe PSA – 4.1 million

An amalgam of France-based Peugeot, Citroen and DS, as well as new additions Opel and Vauxhall (formerly of General Motors), PSA forms the third-largest auto manufacturer in Europe and conducts business in virtually every country on earth except for the U.S. and Canada. Watch for that to change next year when PSA dips its toe back into our market after decades in absentia. Interestingly, PSA continues to produce Opel models that are sold as Buicks in North America.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Reputed for its diesel powertrains and elegant – and distinctly French – designs, PSA has struggled to maintain its presence among the 10 largest automakers in the world. Reportedly, PSA is set to drastically cut production at its Russelsheim assembly plant in Germany, where it makes the Buick Regal. PSA has seen sales growth in parts of Europe that stubbornly embrace diesels, such as Spain and Italy, while the Chinese have seemingly lost their appetite for oil burners.

Suzuki – 3.2 million

Like Honda, Suzuki was a motorcycle manufacturer before expanding into the automobile market. Its 1955 Suzulight compact car featured front-wheel drive, four-wheel independent suspension and rack-and-pinion steering, innovations that weren’t commonplace until decades later. Suzuki was also an early adopter of four-wheel drive; its iconic Jimny became popular in developing countries that lacked good roads.

Biggest Automakers in the World

Suzuki Automobiles exited the Canadian and U.S. markets several years ago due to sagging sales, but it remains a major automaker in other parts of the world, especially Asia. It counts India’s Maruti as a key partner in the growing South Asia market. Global sales of Suzuki cars and crossovers surged by 5 per cent in 2018, not an insignificant gain given the headwinds that the industry is struggling with these days.

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