Toyota still world's top car maker

ToyotaToyota has held on to its status as the world's top-selling car maker in the first quarter of this year, although the three-way race with General Motors and Volkswagen is proving tight as its sales fall in China and Japan.

Toyota said it sold 2.43 million vehicles during the January-March period, outpacing US firm GM at 2.36 million vehicles and Volkswagen of Germany at 2.27 million.

First quarter sales declined 2.2% from a year earlier, while those for GM were up 3.6% and Volkswagen's jumped 5.1%.

Toyota has been hit by a resurgence of anti-Japanese sentiment in China because of a territorial dispute over tiny islands, and some Chinese are worried about being seen driving a Japanese car.

The company says the situation is slowly improving but getting back to solid growth again is likely to take some time.

The end of subsidies for green vehicles in Japan hurt Toyota sales in its home market. Such incentives had previously helped boost sales of its popular hybrid models.

Toyota's quarterly vehicle sales were down 13% in China and 15% in Japan compared with the same period last year. It is roaring back in North America, where sales rose 7%, as well as in many Asian nations where it is relatively dominant.

Its stumble in China is a sore point as GM and Volkswagen are gaining ground in that market, the world's largest, where potential for growth remains vast.

The Japanese maker of the Prius hybrid reclaimed its crown as world's top car maker last year, after losing it to GM a year earlier, when it was battered by the tsunami and quake disasters in north-eastern Japan.

GM had been top for seven decades before losing that title to Toyota in 2008.