Hyundai posted stronger 2014 unit sales growth than Toyota, Ford and GM (Photo: Hyundai)

General Motors, which has for years been a strong contender in the race to be the world's biggest selling carmaker, slipped to third place in 2014, according to Germany's Center of Automotive Management (CAM). Toyota and Volkswagen Group are expected to end the year neck-and-neck, with each set to post global unit sales of around 10 million.

CAM based its projections on nine-month unit-sales data provided by the world's global carmakers. On that basis,  Toyota is likely to post 2014 sales of 10.03 million units, VW 9.93 million units and GM 9.85 million vehicles. The Hyundai group is expected to end in fourth place with 8.0 million units sold.

Volkswagen Group sales grew at a markedly slower pace in the second half of the year because of weakness in South America and Russia, CAM said.

For all of 2014, VW unit sales grew 4.4 pc, while Toyota sales edged up 0.6 pc and GM unit sales were 1.4 percent higher. But sales growth among the top three was outpaced by South Korea's Hyundai Group, which posted a 5.8 pc increase in 2014, CAM said.

The research institute said global carmakers, helped by growth in China and the US and a slight uppick in Europe, boosted their aggregate unit sales 3.7 pc to 75 million passenger cars in 2014.

The world's biggest carmakers are set to report uneven profits in 2014. In the first nine months of the year, Toyota posted (EBIT) earnings of 12.9 billion euros, VW generated 9.4 billion euros in pretax profit and Hyundai made a 5.6 billion euros pretax profit. But EBIT at the two major US car groups, GM and Ford, dropped roughly 30 pc in the first nine months to 3.2 billion euros and 3.9 billion euros, respectively.

CAM said GM's fall in profit reflected the costs of a massive US recall as well as losses in Europe. The research institute attributed the lower profit at Ford to high development costs for new models.

Following "quite a good year" in 2014, CAM cited "growing cloud cover in the automotive sky" in 2015. It blamed the uncertainty from Russia's stepped up involvement in the Ukraine, economic weakness in key European countries and questions over future Chinese car demand for the more subdued outlook.

Automakers will require "a high degree of flexibility" to deal with the challenges of 2015, CAM said.