Volkswagen has come out ahead of Toyota in global sales, following the Japanese automaker’s four-year lead from 2012 to 2015, when it overtook General Motors as the world’s largest car brand. Prior to that, Toyota took over from GM’s 77-year lead, which the Japanese company relinquished in 2011 due to production disruptions in Japan and Thailand, according to Automotive News Europe.

The Volkswagen Group recorded global sales of 10.3 million vehicles across its passenger car, truck and bus brands in 2016, representing a 3.8% gain. Toyota’s performance fell short of the VW Group’s, despite a 0.2% growth to a global sales figure of 10.2 million vehicles, which included its Lexus, Daihatsu and Hino brands.

On the other hand, Toyota’s profits outperformed the VW Group’s by more than double in the six months through December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Neither company has reported earnings for the period ending December 31.

Volkswagen’s supplanting of Toyota at the top of the global sales chart was attributed to changing dynamics in both automakers’ largest overseas markets, the US and China. While Toyota endured an overall slowing of sales in the US auto industry, VW’s performance in China benefited from growth and tax breaks in the country, driving demand since 2015.

The global political landscape holds greater challenges ahead for Toyota due pressure from US president Donald Trump, according to an analyst. “Trump is a bigger risk for Toyota than for Volkswagen because the German carmaker has a small exposure to the US market. Toyota has made investment to build a new plant in Mexico and will have limited options to appeal to Trump,” said Ken Miyao, an analyst at Tokyo-based market researcher Carnorama.

Toyota is set to invest US$10 billion (RM44.3 billion) in the United States over the next five years, along with other manufacturers responding to pressure from Trump to create and retain jobs in America. The Japanese automaker built more than 1.38 million car and trucks in the US last year, while its first assembly plant in the US was built three decades ago in Georgetown, Kentucky.

“The development of the US market is set to decide if VW can stay ahead of Toyota this year,” Sascha Gommel, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Commerzbank, said. “If the Chinese and European markets continue to be solid and the US market weakens as I expect, VW might stay first in 2017 as Toyota has a larger exposure to North America,” Gommel said.

The latest iteration of the latest Toyota Camry will aid in the Japanese company’s efforts towards regaining its lead in the US, following a sales slowdown of the sedan in anticipation of the new model’s unveiling at the Detroit Motor Show.