The first century of the automobile was quite simple: Ford was world leader until the mid-1920s and then General Motors took over for the next 75 years.

Now it is like a music chart. Toyota got to No.1 in 2008, only to lose it again with the recall issue in the USA and then the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011. However, it has surpassed both GM and VW in the first half of this year.

Toyota's worldwide sales rose 33.7% to 4.97m vehicles, according to industry website www.just-auto.com, , its highest ever half-year figure. GM sold 4.67m units in the first half, up 3%, and Volkswagen 4.45m, up 9%.

However, VW is still widely expected to become world No.1 within five years. It is very strong in China and it would have grown much faster this year if it had not been for the European crisis. For any European-based company to grow at all in the current climate is quite an achievement.

Nonetheless, Toyota has given notice that it will not surrender easily. Toyota is very strong in Asia outside China and also in North America. It is weak in Europe, but that does not matter at present, as Europe itself is such a weak market. VW is weak in North America, so the question is whether VW can strengthen in the USA quicker than Toyota can strengthen in Europe, and the answer to that is "probably".