For special occasions, Toyota dives into fleet

MONTEREY, Calif. -- Toyota talks a good game about how it stays out of the fleet business.

The company mantra is, “We do less than 10 percent of our total sales to rental fleets. Compare us to the other guys.” By that, they clearly mean the Detroit 3, conjuring up sepia-toned images of program cars run amok and the resultant damaged brands.

Come to think of it, Chrysler is still bombarding daily rental fleets -- just to keep its plants running -- at more than 50 percent of volume earlier this year. And while the roulette wheel of rental cars means we all get a Camry at one time or another, it's still a pretty rare occurrence compared to plopping down into a Malibu, Fusion or Sebring.

So it was with some surprise that, during my stay at the Monterey Marriott during this year's Pebble Beach Concours weekend, I found myself doing a double take.

Usually, the valet ranks are filled with exotic cars on their way to various events. But one morning, as the masses waited for the valet service to bring around their wheels, what should pull up but six consecutive Toyota Camrys, drab silver with gray fabric interior. All had the recognizable window-mounted bar-code of a rental car.

I asked a couple of the folks, as they moved to their cars, if they worked for Toyota. They didn't. Were all these Camrys company cars? They weren't.

So, either Toyota or one of its dealers filled the rental lot at Monterey County Airport. Hey, at least when Toyota goes into fleet, they go all the way.