The year that was 2020 was a crazy one, and carmakers – like everyone else – had to deal with plenty of uncertainty. But in the rollercoaster ride called Crazy Covid, a company has to come out on top, and it’s Toyota. The Japanese giant edged out the Volkswagen Group to be the world’s top-selling automaker.

Toyota sold 9.53 million units last year, a total that includes those of its subsidiaries Daihatsu and Hino. That was enough for it to overtake the VW Group’s 9.31 million, making 2020 the first time in five years that Toyota topped the leaderboard.

According to IHS Markit’s estimate, 2020 was a painful year for automakers, and although demand for cars recovered marginally toward the end of 2020, Covid-related factory and showroom shutdowns in the spring were enough to drag sales down 14% from 2019 levels. The firm says that the automakers’ losses were largely determined by their level of exposure to the regions most disrupted by the virus.

Take VW, which is strong in its home continent of Europe. Sales of cars in the EU fell by an unprecedented 24% to dip below the 10 million mark in 2020, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. VW’s sales fell 15%, its worst performance in close to a decade.

Meanwhile Toyota is big in the US, where auto sales dropped 15% in 2020. While America leads the Covid cases and deaths league table, the level of lockdowns there weren’t as severe as in Europe.

Toyota’s 2020 group sales is down 11.3% year-on-year, the first decrease in five years (Toyota brand alone is down 10.5% to 8.69 million). However, sales grew 10.9% in China. The company also points to a strong end to 2020 – in December, global sales were up 10.3% year-on-year, the fourth consecutive monthly increase. In Q4 2020, sales worldwide were up 6.8% year-on-year, exceeding initial expectations of a flat quarter.

The best-selling Toyota model in 2020 is the RAV4, with global sales of 994,000 units (up 2.9%). North America is the primary market for the SUV, but RAV4 sales shot up 37.9% year-on-year in China to 175,000 units. As for electrified vehicles, the global ratio increased from around 20% in 2019 to approximately 23% in 2020. The increase was driven primarily by sales in Europe, China and North America.

“Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been spreading since the beginning of 2020, Toyota was able to continue corporate activities through comprehensive implementation of various infection prevention measures, and by working together with partners including suppliers and dealers,” Toyota said in a statement.

“In addition to these efforts, Toyota enjoys the support of customers around the world who favour Toyota vehicles, enabling Toyota to limit the decline in sales to just 10.5% year-on-year and maintain domestic production at the three million unit level,” it added.

According to analysts cited by Bloomberg, while VW outsold Toyota from 2015-2019, the Japanese company regaining the lead in 2020 might be the start of a longer-term trend. IHS Markit expects VW to temporarily surpass Toyota in 2021 due to a sales spike from its fresh electrified vehicle range, but predicts that Toyota will pull ahead each year through 2025.

The firm’s analyst Yoshiaki Kawano said Toyota will continue to enjoy strong sales in its core markets of the US and Japan. In the world’s largest car market, China, the big T should “put up a good fight” by pushing out more electric cars and SUVs to fulfil local demand.

Overall, although the auto market will continue to be affected by the continuation of Covid and the fresh problem of global chip shortage, IHS Markit estimates that sales will climb to 84.4 million units from 2020’s 76.8 million. That’s optimistic, and we’ll see.