Even Before Diesel Scandal Bites, VW Loses Its Sales Crown

FRANKFURT — Volkswagen’s reign as the world’s biggest automaker has been short-lived, and the company — in the throes of an emissions-cheating scandal — is bringing in a new head of corporate strategy.

Toyota published figures on Monday that showed it sold more vehicles in the first nine months of 2015 than Volkswagen, retaking the No. 1 position. Only three months earlier, Volkswagen had surpassed Toyota for the first time and, however briefly, realized a long-held dream to become the world’s biggest automaker.

The Volkswagen emissions scandal erupted in September with revelations that 11 million of its diesel cars are equipped with software designed to deceive pollution tests. But even before the crisis broke, Volkswagen’s sales were slipping in crucial markets like China and Brazil. In coming months, sales could be further hurt by reputational damage from the emissions debacle.

In addition, Volkswagen cannot sell its remaining 2015 model-year diesels in the United States or Europe, or its 2016 diesels, until it has found ways to repair those cars to bring them into compliance with emissions standards.

Toyota said on Monday that it sold 7.52 million cars and trucks from January through September. That compared to 7.43 million cars and trucks sold by Volkswagen during the same period, according to figures published by Volkswagen earlier this month.

The influence of the emissions scandal on sales in the first nine months was limited, though. The United States Environmental Protection Agency brought Volkswagen’s misconduct to light on Sept. 18, when it issued a notice of violation against the company. That means the most recent sales figures include less than two weeks when buyers would have been aware of Volkswagen’s behavior.

“The next quarter will be the true testament to the damage the scandal is going to do to Volkswagen globally,” Max Zanan, chief executive of IDDS Group, a firm in New York that provides consulting services to car dealers, said in a telephone interview. “Toyota is the beneficiary.”

As Volkswagen tries to regroup, the company said on Monday that it was bringing in Thomas Sedran, 51, from General Motors, as head of corporate strategy. Mr. Sedran, who takes the newly created post on Nov. 1, has most recently been president of Chevrolet and Cadillac in Europe. Earlier, he was head of corporate strategy at G.M.’s Opel division, which is based in Rüsselsheim, Germany. Mr. Sedran served as interim chief executive for Opel for eight months in 2012 and 2013.

By appointing an outsider to the position, Volkswagen’s new chief executive, Matthias Müller, may be addressing criticism that top management has been too insular and dominated by longtime insiders.

Earlier this month, Volkswagen appointed another outsider, Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt, an executive at the German automaker Daimler, to be a member of the management board and have responsibility for integrity and legal affairs. Ms. Hohmann-Dennhardt will be the first woman to join the Volkswagen management board when she begins work on Jan. 1.


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She is likely to have her hands full because of the numerous lawsuits from Volkswagen owners and shareholders, as well as official investigations.

Prosecutors in Braunschweig, a city near Volkswagen’s base in Wolfsburg, are investigating whether company employees committed any crimes when they installed software that could detect when a car was undergoing emissions tests, and turn on pollution controls in order to pass the tests. At other times, the vehicles emitted many times the permitted amount of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant linked to lung ailments.

Birgit Seel, a spokeswoman for the state prosecutor’s office in Braunschweig, said in a telephone interview on Monday that she could not confirm the names of possible suspects that have been widely reported by the news media.

She said it was not the office’s policy to name those being investigated.

The number of people currently under investigation as part of the criminal inquiry is still below 10, Ms. Seel said. Jones Day, a United States law firm with offices in Germany, is also conducting an internal inquiry for Volkswagen. The Jones Day investigation may have a broader scope and bring in more people than the official investigation because it is not necessarily focused solely on criminal wrongdoing.

Jones Day is also examining whether some executives knew of the emissions cheating and failed to take action, even if they were not directly involved in installing the illegal software, a person briefed on the inquiry said.

Ms. Seel said she could not rule out that the number of people involved in the criminal investigation would increase. She said investigators were sifting through electronic data seized from the company. What they learn from it will determine next steps, she said.

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