GM lost its perch at the top to Toyota two years ago. But Toyota has had it rough lately. After massive recalls plagued the company, Japan was devastated by a massive earthquake on March 11 that halted production at numerous automobile parts suppliers.
GM sold 5 million vehicles in its two principle markets, China, where sales rose 8.3 percent from 2010 and the United States, where sales rose 13 percent year-to-year, industry research firm IHS Automotive said.
In total, GM sold 9 million vehicles last year, a 7.6 percent gain from 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Volkswagen sold the second highest total, selling 8.2 million vehicles, a gain of 14.3 percent of 2010.
But Volkswagen's ascension to No. 2 may not last long, IHS Automotive analyst Colin Couchman said.
Struggling economies in Europe may not be as supportive in 2012 as they were in 2011, Couchman said.
"VW will be hard-pushed to eke out further gains for 2012," he said.
Third in 2011 is likely to be Toyota Motors, which predicted it would sell 7.9 million vehicles in the year, a 6 percent drop from 2010. Toyota's final figures have not yet been released.
In fourth place, Ford Motor Co. with 5.3 million vehicles sold, a 6.9 percent increase from 2010.
The combined sales of Nissan and Renault, which frequently work in alliance, total 6.9 million vehicles, 9.4 percent higher than 2010. If counted together, Nissan-Renault would come in fourth.
Just behind that is Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp., which are also seen at times as one firm. Combined, Hyundai and Kia sold 6.5 million vehicles, a 14.6 percent gain from 2010.