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Volkswagen Overtakes Toyota As World's Largest Automaker


Well, it appears for the first time that Volkswagen will claim the crown as the world's biggest automaker - Volkswagen, the company that pleaded guilty to criminal wrongdoing for installing software on its diesel cars that faked out emissions tests. NPR's Sonari Glinton explains why.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Volkswagen has gotten into a lot of trouble here in the U.S. and Europe. In many ways, that doesn't matter. Here's Karl Brauer. He's with Autotrader. He has the reason - China.

KARL BRAUER: The U.S. just isn't the big dog anymore. China is the big dog. That's why we see so many companies scrambling to position themselves there. But Volkswagen's kind of got a head start on a lot of them 'cause they've been there for so many years already.

CHRISTIE SCHWEINSBERG: They began manufacturing in China through a joint venture in 1984.

GLINTON: OK, that's our next car expert.

SCHWEINSBERG: Christie Schweinsberg - I'm senior editor at wardsauto.com in Southfield, Mich. So, you know, we're talking 33 years ago. And that's how they rose to dominance is they embraced the Chinese market much earlier than many other automakers.

GLINTON: General Motors is actually number one in China. The Chinese love Buick. But GM sales are down here in the U.S. and Schweinsberg says so are Toyotas.

SCHWEINSBERG: They're a very car-centric brand and it couldn't build crossovers, which Americans are increasingly flocking to. They couldn't build them fast enough.

GLINTON: Besides the fines, will the scandal hurt Volkswagen's reputation? J.B. Steenkamp teaches marketing at UNC, Chapel Hill. He says yes in the short term, but he doesn't expect a lasting impact.

J.B. STEENKAMP: Unless it is followed up with a second or a third scandal. BP also continues to sell well in America after that horrible disaster of the Deepwater Horizon. People are pretty forgetful and also pretty forgiving.

GLINTON: Though in this case, German criminal prosecutors may not be forgetting too soon. Nearly 40 former executives are being investigated, including the former CEO, who made being No. 1 a goal. Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.