We’re #1! Toyota and Ford Bicker About Who Has the World’s Best-Selling Car

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Daniel Acker / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Ford Focus vehicles sit on display at the Uftring Automall in East Peoria, Ill. on Jan. 27, 2012.

It’s a battle for bragging rights, with two automakers saying they each had the world’s best-selling car model last year. Can they both be right?

Ford hasn’t been shy about its ambitions to steal the World’s Best-Selling Car title away from Toyota, whose Corolla usually holds the crown. After the sales totals came in for the first half of 2012, Ford boasted that its Focus was the top seller, with 489,616 units worldwide over the six-month span. “The nearest competitor, Toyota Corolla, sold 462,187,” a Ford press release stated.

And since the sales tallies for all of 2012 came in recently, Ford has been trumpeting the fact that the Focus is “officially the world’s best-selling vehicle.” But is that, in fact, a fact?

Using R.L. Polk & Co. data, Ford stated that a total of 1,020,410 Focuses were sold worldwide in 2012. The Toyota Corolla seemingly came in a distant second place, with 872,774 cars sold.

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But the actual wording Ford used in its announcement was that the Focus was the “best-selling vehicle nameplate in the world” (our emphasis) last year. That’s not the same as being the clear-cut best-selling vehicle. As Reuters reported, Toyota insists that the Corolla is still the overall sales champ. Once all versions and alternate names of the Corolla are included, there were really 1.2 million “Corolla” models sold in 2012.

“Toyota still sees the Corolla as the world’s most popular car,” Toyota spokesperson Ryo Saka stated.

This is hardly the first time that competing automakers have looked at the same data and drawn very different (and very obviously biased) conclusions. According to Automotive News, several automakers are currently simultaneously playing with the numbers in order claim that their trucks have the best fuel economy and/or the most towing capacity. The results — and the claims — all depend on how they slice the data.

Regardless of whether the Focus truly earns the World’s Best-Selling Car title, Ford comes away from 2012 with legitimate bragging rights. Focus sales rose 40% in the U.S. last year, and it was the best-selling car in China in 2012. The Ford F-series was the only truck in Polk’s top 10 (ranking #3 on the best-seller list), and the Ford Fiesta can say it’s the world’s best-selling subcompact automobile, with 723,130 registrations last year, good for the #6 spot.

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The Toyota Camry ranked fifth in overall worldwide sales last year, though the automaker can crow that it’s the best-selling sedan in the U.S. Strictly in the U.S., the Camry creamed the Focus in 2012 sales by a reported 359,241 versus 245,922.