TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Nissan Motor Co. and its French alliance partner Renault SA on Monday reported record-high global vehicle sales of around 8.1 million units for 2012, up 0.9 percent from the year before, despite sluggish demand in China and Europe.

The alliance, however, ranked fourth among automakers worldwide, slipping from third in 2011, as the Toyota Motor Corp. group returned to top spot after placing fourth the previous year.

The alliance's vehicle sales, including those of Russia's Avtovaz, showed a sharp fall in growth, after posting an increase of 10.3 percent in 2011, hit hard by weak demand for Renault cars in Europe.

By company, Nissan's sales rose 5.8 percent to an all-time high of 4.94 million units, backed by a pickup in U.S. demand, while Renault's dropped 6.3 percent to 2.55 million units and Avtovaz's shrank 5.5 percent to 610,891 units.

"2012 was a challenging year due to the continued decline in Renault's historic core market of western Europe and due to political tension in China, Nissan's top market worldwide," Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn said in a statement.

Sales of Japanese cars in China plunged last year due to a territorial dispute between Asia's two biggest economies.

The Toyota group, including Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd., was the world's top seller in 2012 with 9.74 million units, followed by General Motors Co. with 9.28 million units and Volkswagen AG's 9.07 million units.