The diesel emissions scandal is expected to cost more than $20 billion, but it appears to have had little effect on VW's sales.

Volkswagen appears to have achieved its goal of retaking the global sales crown from Japanese rival Toyota.

The German automaker sold 10.31 million vehicles last year, slightly higher than Toyota's tally of 1.175 million units, according to an AP report.

General Motors has not yet published its sales figures for the year, but a spokesperson told the AP the number is not likely to reach 10.3 million.

Signs of the shakeup emerged in April when Toyota's first-quarter sales slid by 2.3 percent, partially attributed to a steel factory explosion in January. VW's deliveries grew by a modest 0.8 percent during the same period, buoyed by strong growth in China and solid sales in Europe.

Toyota continued to experience bad luck in the second quarter as the Kumamoto earthquakes disrupted production at assembly plants and supplier factories. The company recovered sales later in the year, but ended with a 0.2 percent gain compared to VW's 3.8-percent jump.

The global sales race will likely become even more competitive as annual delivery totals for VW, GM and Toyota continue to be separated by just a few percent.