Earlier this month, Volkswagen threw a party in New York’s Museum of Modern Art to mark a breakthrough year in the U.S. and the highest annual sales in the country since 2002. The celebration proved to be premature. Two days later at the Detroit auto show, Hyundai beat VW’s Passat with its Elantra sedan to win the North American Car of the Year award, underlining the company’s status as a major competitor to Volkswagen.

In 2011, VW sales in the EU and EFTA countries rose 9 per cent to 1.68 million units, giving the automaker a 12.4 per cent share of the market, according to figures from the Brussels-based industry group ACEA. By comparison, Hyundai sales in the region rose 11.5 per cent to 398,129, giving it a 2.9 per cent market share. Kia sold 293,960 cars in the same period, a rise of 11.8 percent over 2010 figures, giving it a 2.2 per cent share of the market.

Hyundai plans to keep up the pressure by investing a record 14.1 trillion won ($12.4 billion) to upgrade plants and develop vehicle technology, the company said 29 December. VW isn’t sitting still. The manufacturer has budgeted 62.4 billion euros to invest in factories and new models over the next five years. CEO Winterkorn told the company’s top 2,000 managers at a meeting in Dresden in December that he intends to position Volkswagen to withstand growing competition as it pursues the auto industry’s profit and technology lead.