By Yoko Kubota
TOKYO (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> kept its lead over rivals General Motors Co (GM) and Volkswagen AG (VOW3.DE) this year, January-September global sales figures showed, as the Japanese carmaker closes in on a record annual profit.
Toyota's groupwide sales totaled around 7.412 million vehicles, up 0.1 percent from the same period a year ago, the company said on Monday, as strong sales in the United States offset slowdowns in Thailand and China.
Toyota's groupwide total includes sales at affiliates Daihatsu Motor Co Ltd <7262.T> and Hino Motors Ltd <7205.T>.
General Motors sold 7.25 million vehicles during the same January to September period, up 4.6 percent year-on-year, while Volkswagen rose 4.8 percent to 7.03 million vehicles, according to figures released earlier this month.
Volkswagen's sales figure however, excludes its Scania and MAN brands. Scania sold around 56,220 vehicles up to September. Scania and MAN brands typically account for a combined 200,000 vehicles in a full year.
Toyota regained the global sales crown in 2012 after slipping to third place behind GM and Volkswagen in 2011, following natural disasters in Japan and Thailand. Previously, it had been on top from 2008 through 2010.
Analysts expect Toyota to post 2.4 trillion yen ($24.7 billion) in operating profit for the year ending March 2014, more than the record 2.27 trillion yen it hit in the year ended March 2008, as the weaker yen makes exports profitable.
For the full year, Toyota, together with Daihatsu and Hino, expects to sell 9.96 million vehicles, up 2 percent from 2012.
Toyota, which will announce its July-September results on November 6, is expected to post an operating profit of 616.5 billion yen, nearly double what it posted a year ago.
In September, Toyota's monthly groupwide global vehicle sales rose 6.3 percent from a year ago to 832,000 vehicles.
Toyota said September exports to the United States from Japan rose 9 percent from a year ago to around 53,130 vehicles as U.S. demands for the RAV4 and Lexus IS are strong.
In Thailand, Toyota's biggest market in Southeast Asia, sales are slowing after the end of the government's first-car initiative. September sales dropped about 33 percent year-on-year to 31,000 vehicles, while July-September quarterly sales fell 30 percent to 96,000 vehicles. ($1 = 97.3400 Japanese yen)
(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Matt Driskill and Jeremy Laurence)