Struggling to move past a pollution-cheating scandal, Volkswagen earlier said it logged sales of 9.93 million vehicles worldwide last year, while Chevrolet and Cadillac maker GM moved 9.8 million.
In the first half of the year, the German giant was in pole position, outpacing Toyota as it rode momentum in emerging economies.
But then it posted its first drop in annual sales for more than a decade, as it was hammered by a massive pollution cheating scandal.
Volkswagen sank into its biggest crisis over stunning revelations in September that it had fitted 11 million of its vehicles with devices designed to dodge pollution tests.
The US government has said it was suing VW for $20 billion in civil penalties over the scandal. Toyota broke GM's decades-long reign as the world's top automaker in 2008 but lost it three years later to the US firm, as Japan's earthquake-tsunami disaster dented production and disrupted the supply chains.