The Wolfsburg-based maker of Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Skoda and other brand name cars sold 10.83 million vehicles, beating its 2017 record of 10.74 million cars by 0.9 percent.
Marketing head Christian Dahlheim said increasing sales in a global passenger car market that contracted by 1.2 percent last year was "a great result."
Dahlheim said the company overcame bottlenecks in getting cars certified under new emission rules that took effect Sept. 1 in Europe. Those difficulties hurt sales in the following months in Europe. The company overcame that with strong increases in South America and Eastern Europe as well as Russia. In the company's single largest market, China, sales rose 0.5 percent even as the overall market shrank.
In 2017, Volkswagen contested the title of world's biggest carmaker with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance. The alliance asserted that it was No. 1 with 10.6 million vehicles sold and said Volkswagen inflated its tally by counting trucks. The alliance announces 2018 figures later this month.
Toyota, dethroned by Volkswagen as No. 1 in 2016, has forecast sales of 10.55 million for 2018 but has not released final figures.
The company no longer sets unit sales records as a primary business goal. Taking over the top spot in the global sales race was a target once set by former CEO Martin Winterkorn, who lost his job in 2015 after the company was caught installing software that let cars cheat on U.S. emissions tests. The company paid more than 27 billion euros (more than $31 billion) in fines and settlements.
Sport-utility vehicles rose from a 12.6 percent share of Volkswagen sales in 2014 to 23.2 percent last year. SUVs, which carry higher prices and profit margins than older types of vehicles such as sedans and hatchbacks, have been a strong growth category for automakers. The highest share for Volkswagen was 43 percent in North America.
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