One key difference between Toyota and the two other automakers is that it manufactures heavy trucks. GM and Volkswagen have light trucks but no heavy trucks in their lineup.
Excluding sales of 78,000 trucks for Toyota's Hino Motors, Toyota's global vehicle sales totaled about 4.83 million for the first half, according to Toyota.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda said sales were not the only measure of excellence, and profitability, quality of workers and productivity were also significant.
"What truly defines being No. 1 is an eternal pursuit for which there is never an answer," he told reporters this week.
GM officials also say they don't care who wins the global sales race. But the numbers tend to reflect company momentum, and the outcome is good for morale not only for employees but the wide range of industries that auto manufacturing supports in each nation.
Yasuaki Iwamoto, auto analyst at Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo, believes Toyota's popularity in Southeast Asia will continue to boost vehicle sales numbers in coming months. And that is a key plus for a manufacturer.
"The merit of scale is not just about numbers and is likely to lead to cost cuts," he said in a report.
At a recent opening of a Toyota training facility, Keiji Furuya, a lawmaker and government minister, told the crowd he was proud of Toyota's achievements.
"Toyota is the No. 1 automaker in the world. And it is important it stays the No. 1 automaker in the world," he said.
Tatsuo Yoshida, auto analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co., expects Toyota, GM and Volkswagen to be switching places at the top in coming years as all three can count on growth in different global markets.