For a long time it seemed that Toyota's position as the world’s biggest carmaker was virtually unassailable, but now industry analysts are predicting that for the first quarter of 2009, the Volkswagen Group may have finally overtaken the Japanese carmaker in volume.

While the results are not yet in for the first three months of this year's sales, the race is expected to be fairly close. VW delivered close to 1.4 million vehicles in the first quarter, a fall of over 10% from the previous first quarter last year, however, the numbers still represent a significant gain in overall market share considering how rapidly the market for new cars has shrunk.

Toyota, meanwhile, will not be releasing official figures until next week, but the Japanese car giant's own estimates figure that it will sell a little over 1.2 million units - a drop of almost 50% compared to the first quarter of 2008.

The news represents a significant milestone in VW’s ongoing climb to the top, having already overtaken Ford's global sales last year and poised to exact the same outcome on GM later this year. The reasoning has been put down to the different markets that Toyota and VW specialize in. Many of Toyota's top markets have experienced stunted demand, heavily affecting the Japanese carmaker. On the other hand, "VW has the luck of being strong in the markets that are currently growing", Center for Automotive Research chief Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer explained to Automotive News.

On top of this, these emerging markets where VW is showing strong growth as a brand also feature strong government incentive plans to purchase new cars. Strong VW markets such as China, Germany and Brazil are all encouraging consumers to purchase cars, while the same cannot be said of the government's in Toyota's chief markets.