VW, which aspires to be the world's biggest automaker by 2018, has a fair way to go to surpass the current champion, as Toyota has forecast that 2012 sales will jump 22 percent to 9.7 million vehicles.
GM, which briefly regained the crown after Toyota's supplies were shattered by the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, has not yet forecast or released its global sales figures for last year.
VW chief Martin Winterkorn expressed confidence for the future.
"This industry remains a growth industry worldwide and in this country," Winterkorn told reporters on the eve of the Detroit auto show.
"We want to outpace the industry," he said, adding "the VW group developed extremely well in difficult conditions."
However sales chief Christian Klingler cautioned progress could be slower this year if the situation in Europe continues to deteriorate.
"Present uncertainties will intensify in 2013," he said, adding "markets remain challenging, competition is getting tougher."
The 12-brand giant's sales jumped 34 percent in the United States, eight percent in South America and 25 percent in China, VW's largest market with 2.81 million vehicles sold last year.
The group hopes to sell "well in excess" of 600,000 Volkswagens and Audis in the United States this year, up marginally from 596,100 in 2012.
Sales were stable overall in Europe despite the economic crisis, but were down 6.5 percent in Western Europe excluding Germany at 1.85 million.
It nonetheless performed much better than the number two European automaker, France's PSA Peugeot Citroen, which saw its sales plummet 16.5 percent in 2012.
Among VW's various brands, the European crisis hit Spain's Seat hardest as sales fell 8.3 percent. The group's other brands, VW, Audi, Porsche, Skoda and its commercial vehicles, delivered gains of 4.1 to 11.7 percent.