Germany's Volkswagen sold more than eight million vehicles worldwide in 2011, possibly enough to grab the top spot among global automakers for the first time, chairman Martin Winterkorn said.
VW boosted sales by more than one million vehicles, or 14 per cent, to 8.16 million last year, Winterkorn said on the eve of the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
That was likely enough to put it past the champion of the previous three years, Japan's Toyota, which found production last year hobbled by the March 11 earthquake-tsunami disaster.
But total world sales for General Motors, which held the crown for 77 year until it was snatched by Toyota in 2008, have yet to be reported.
VW sales include Volkswagens as well as the group's Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini brands.
The group has aimed at capturing the title of the world's leading vehicle maker by sales and profitability by 2018.
VW recently bought the heavy truck builder MAN -- sales of which are not included in the 2011 figures -- and is in the process of taking over Porsche.
It also owns a 19.9 percent share of Suzuki of Japan.
Winterkorn said he did not expect a recession this year to dampen auto sales.
Even if the prospects for Europe are not bright, he said, "We continue to build on the growth of North America and China."