Toyota is maintaining its lead over rivals General Motors and Volkswagen this year, with January-September global sales figures showing its sales up 0.1% year on year as it closes in on a record annual profit.

Toyota's nine month group wide sales tallied around 7.4m vehicles with strong volume in the US offsetting slowdowns in Thailand and China. GM sold 7.2m vehicles, up 4.6% year on year. VW sales rose 4.8% to just over 7m vehicles.

Volkswagen's sales figure however, excludes its truck brands. Scania sold around 56,220 vehicles to the end of September. Scania and MAN brands typically account for a combined 200,000 vehicles in a full year.

Toyota regained its place as the world’s top selling carmaker in 2012 after slipping to third behind GM and VW in 2011, following natural disasters in Japan and Thailand. Previously, it had been on top from 2008.

Analysts expect Toyota to post JPY2.4 trillion (US$24.4bn) in operating profit for the year ending 31 March, 2014, beating its previous record in the year ended March 2008, as a weaker yen makes exports more profitable.

For the full year, Toyota, together with Daihatsu and Hino, expects to sell 9.96m vehicles, up 2% from 2012. In September, Toyota's monthly group wide global vehicle sales rose 6.3% from a year ago to 832,000 vehicles.

Toyota said September exports to the US from Japan rose 9% from a year ago to around 53,130 vehicles with strong demand there for the RAV4 and Lexus IS.

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% year on year to 31,000 vehicles, while July-September quarterly sales fell 30% to 96,000 vehicles.