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Car customers to win big from GM-VW sales race

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DETROIT (CNNMoney) — Volkswagen AG and General Motors continue to run neck-and-neck in the global sales race and U.S. car buyers could become the true winners as VW takes renewed aim at the U.S. market.

VW badly trails GM and Toyota Motor in the U.S. In fact VW’s sales fell 0.6% in 2013 to 611,700, making it No. 8 and the only major manufacturer to report a loss in a rebounding U.S. market.

If it is going to meet its stated goal to be No. 1 globally by 2018, it’s clear VW needs to improve U.S. sales.

That’s good news for US car buyers. Even if they don’t care about global rankings. It means the already very competitive U.S. car market is about to get even more competitive.

“Competition is going to lead to more attractive prices at the end of the day,” said Alex Gutierrez, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “It’s going to lead to each automaker having to step up their game.”

This week at the Detroit auto show, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn announced the automaker would invest $7 billion in North American plants in the next five years, saying that the company wants to sell 1 million vehicles in the United States by 2018.

But in the global race it is just behind both GM and Toyota in sales of passenger vehicles.

GM Tuesday reported that its global sales rose 4% to 9.71 million vehicles, helped by improving sales in the world’s top two markets, China and the United States.

But its lead over VW worldwide continues to narrow. GM could soon fall to third place for the first time on record.

Despite its problems in U.S. sales, VW, which also includes the Audi and Porsche brands, is by far the fastest growing major automaker when it comes to global sales. It moved into the lead in China last year for the first time, displacing GM from the top spot. Globally VW reported sales of 9.5 million, excluding 200,000 heavy trucks. GM no longer sells those vehicles.

Officials with both GM and Volkswagen played down the rankings.

“The race is not really important for us,” said VW spokesman Carsten Krebs. “What important thing is we’re moving in the right direction.”

GM held the global sales title for 77 straight years through 2007.

Toyota Motor has yet to report results for the year but it is likely to remain above both GM and VW. Last year it sold 9.75 million vehicles and all indications are that its total rose due to increasing sales in both China and the United States, the two largest auto markets.

Overall, vehicle sales surged 4.3% to a record 82.9 million worldwide, according to figures from IHS Global. China became the first country with sales above 20 million an increase of 13.7%. U.S. sales rose 7.6%.

It’s the first time global sales have topped 80 million and growth is expected to continue. Forecasts from IHS project sales topping 90 million by 2016 and 100 million by 2019.

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