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.
However, in 2012 it once again overtook its Detroit rival and has remained on top since, despite slowing sales in its home market where a weak economy has taken a bite out of demand.
Toyota’s overall sales — which include its Daihatsu and Hino brands — edged down 0.8 percent from a year ago.
Rival Nissan said Wednesday its global sales hit a calendar-year record 5.42 million units, up 2.1 percent from 2014.
Toyota’s upbeat announcement comes despite the firm struggling to recover its reputation for safety after the recall of millions of cars around the world for various problems, including an exploding air bag crisis at supplier Takata.
At least 10 deaths globally and scores of injuries have been linked to the faulty airbags fitted in cars made by some of the world’s leading auto giants.
Toyota, maker of the Camry sedan and Prius hybrid, had stopped building new plants for several years, and turned its focus to quality rather than sales volume.
The company is also overhauling its production methods, vowing to slash development costs to try to offset any downturn in the market and squeeze more productivity out of existing plants.
Toyota is pushing further into the fast-growing market for environmentally friendly cars, especially in China where officials are struggling to contain an air pollution crisis.