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VW begins drive to unhorse Toyota

– Volkswagen may sell more than 10 million vehicles in 2014, four years earlier than planned, as Europe’s largest carmaker accelerates model introductions in a strategy to overtake Toyota as the industry leader.

“With rising volume and new models, we will increasingly see positive earnings effects as well,” CEO Martin Winterkorn said at a recent news conference in Berlin. “The chances are good that we’ll even exceed the mark of 10 million deliveries this year.”

Volkswagen posted 9.73 million deliveries in 2013 as a boost in Chinese demand helped the company from Wolfsburg, Germany, surpass sales at General Motors to become the world’s second-biggest carmaker. Volkswagen, whose businesses include the Audi and Porsche premium marques and Seat and Skoda mass-market nameplates, said Thursday that it will introduce more than 100 models through 2015.

The German company has “a very successful strategy of positioning different brands in the market,” Klaus Paur, head of the automotive department at market-research company Ipsos, said in an email. “They are really covering the different consumer needs, and you have to keep in mind that we are living in a world where the consumer needs are really diversified.”

The sales-growth target compares with a plan by BMW, the world’s biggest maker of luxury vehicles, to boost group deliveries 2 percent to a record 2 million cars and sport utility vehicles in 2014. The Munich company’s fourth-quarter earnings before interest and taxes rose 4.2 percent to $2.68 billion, counter to analyst estimates that profit would fall, as the 3-Series sedan and wagon attracted buyers. Audi ranks second globally to the BMW brand in luxury-vehicle sales.

Volkswagen edged out GM in Chinese vehicle sales for the first time in nine years in 2013. That market, the biggest for both the German manufacturer and the global auto industry, will remain the growth engine for worldwide car demand, Winterkorn said.

The company is also taking steps to boost U.S. sales, which has lagged behind competitors’ growth in that market. U.S. operations “clearly” broke even in 2013, and the business is “fully on course” to reach a delivery target of 1 million in 2018, Chief Financial Officer Hans Dieter Poetsch said at the news conference.