Toyota has edged closer to reclaiming its title as the world’s largest automotive manufacturer after extending its sales lead over General Motors and Volkswagen in the third quarter of 2012.

Toyota Motor Corp (TMC) sold 2.43 million vehicles across the globe between July 1 and September 30 (including sales from subsidiaries Hino and Daihatsu), representing an increase of 18.0 per cent compared with the same period in 2011.

The strong quarter takes Toyota’s 2012 year-to-date vehicle sales to 7.4 million units, which Bloomberg reports puts it around 450,000 vehicles clear of GM.

The Japanese brand’s Detroit-based rival delivered 2.28 million vehicles around the world in the third quarter, a level that saw it drop to third for the quarter behind Germany’s Volkswagen AG, which rose 13 per cent to 2.3 million units.

Volkswagen (including Porsche) has sold 6.9 million vehicles globally in the first nine months of the year, putting it roughly 50,000 units behind GM in a tight tussle for second position overall.

Toyota remains on track to break its 2007 record of 9.37 million units, targeting 9.76 million vehicle sales by the end of the year.

Standing in the way of its ambitions could be a tough Chinese market, in which Toyota’s sales declined 23 per cent to 197,700 units last quarter.

Encouragingly, TMC’s sales increased 38 per cent in the US over the same period to 525,000 vehicles, and 13 per cent in Europe to 206,600 vehicles.

In Australia, Toyota sold 159,111 vehicles in the first nine months of the year, representing an increase of 21.1 per cent over last year’s natural disaster-affected tally. Luxury marque Lexus is also up 8.4 per cent to 4878 vehicles, most of which can be attributed to the launch of the all-new Lexus GS sedan (above).