Toyota has reported vehicle sales of 9.75 million in 2012 - an increase of more than 22% on the year before.
The Japanese company beat its own estimate - of around 9.7 million cars - to overtake rivals General Motors (NYSE: GM - news) (GM) and Volkswagen (Other OTC: VLKAY - news) to become world's number one carmaker.
Toyota's overseas sales jumped 19% last year, while in Japan - where the economy is struggling - sales recovered by 35%.
The company lost the top-selling title in 2011 after two years at the top following the earthquake in Japan and floods in Thailand which disrupted its supply chain.
It was also hit by negative publicity after a number of embarrassing car-safety recalls in the US involving millions of vehicles.
The company, which makes the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury model, hopes to beat last year's record-high figures in 2013, forecasting sales of 9.91 million vehicles group-wide.
The world's number two carmaker - Detroit-based GM - sold 9.28 million vehicles, up almost 3% on the previous year.
It had been the top-selling company for more than seven decades before losing the title to Toyota in 2008, but regained it again in 2011.
Germany's Volkswagen came third with sales up 11.2% at 9.07 million vehicles.
Toyota played down the significance of the rankings.
"Rather than going after numbers, we hope to make fine products, one by one, to keep out customers satisfied," spokeswoman Shino Yamada said.
"The numbers are just a result of our policy and our policy will continue unchanged."
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