Toyota looks ahead after ‘most challenging time'
The Japanese automaker, still reeling from major recalls, on Tuesday said it posted a 6 percent decline in December U.S. sales. It was the only major automaker to record a sales decline last year.
Toyota's retail sales were up slightly for the year, but were offset by a decline in fleet sales, which fell to about 8 percent of total.
“We're coming off the most challenging time in our 53-year history,” Don Esmond, head of Toyota's U.S. automotive operations, said Tuesday. “2010 was essentially an 11-month year for us, as we stopped production in January to focus all our attention on servicing customer vehicles.”
Light year for new products
In addition to the recalls, it was a relatively light year for new products from Toyota. The redesigned Sienna, 4Runner, Avalon and Scion tC -- all introduced in 2010 -- are low-volume models.
“There is perception that Toyota has been reeling this year,” Esmond said. “But Toyota will be the No. 1 retail brand for the third consecutive year, and Camry is the best selling car in America. Corolla, Tacoma and Lexus RX are all segment leaders. Lexus will be the best-selling luxury brand in the industry for the 11th consecutive year.”
But it's in passenger cars -- a traditional Toyota strength – where the automaker is being challenged by new models introduced by rivals such as Hyundai, Ford and Chevrolet.
“Camry and Corolla sales compared to the industry are pretty decent,” said Esmond. “Our car penetration continues to be good.”
Fuel efficiency gains
And the automaker is counting on demand for the Prius hybrid to benefit if gasoline prices continue to rise.
Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager, said fuel efficiency began to enter consumer conversations more in December than earlier in the fourth quarter.
Toyota is counting on the introduction of 10 new or updated products this year, as well as a rebounding U.S. economy, to spur sales.
“We've never headed into a new year with as much excitement and anticipation as we are in 2011,” said Esmond. “The Toyota brand is in full recovery mode.”
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