Toyota ends 2011 with tiny gain, sees big advance
Camry is industry's top-selling car for 10th straight year
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story listed the wrong year in saying December was Toyota's strongest sales month of the year.
LOS ANGELES -- Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., still struggling to rebuild its inventory levels since the March earthquake, reported a tiny U.S. sales gain in December, trailing the industry's leaders.
Last month's 0.4 percent increase followed a 7 percent advance in November, when the automaker ended a six-month skid.
On the brighter side, Toyota sold more vehicles last month than any in 2011. And executives say they are confident that strong first-quarter production will allow dealers to rebuild inventories and boost sales.
For 2012, combined Toyota, Lexus and Scion sales in the United States will rise about 15 percent to 1.9 million units, said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. That would represent a 13.9 percent share of a market with a projected 13.6 million sales.
"Timing is everything. We are entering a growing market that will grow 1 million units, in an improving economy, with growing interest rates, with 19 new and refreshed models to launch," Lentz said.
With 2011 sales down 7 percent, Toyota lost ground in the U.S. market last year.
The automaker's U.S. market share dropped 2.3 percentage points to 12.9 percent last year from 15.2 percent in 2010. It was the biggest loss of market share in the United States last year among major automakers.
The 19 new or refreshed products Toyota plans are in addition to the recently launched Camry, Yaris and Prius V.
"We are very bullish on the industry and 2012. It's going to be a banner year for Toyota, Lexus and Scion," Lentz added.
At Lexus, which lost its U.S. luxury sales crown in 2011 amid a 13 percent decline in sales, nine new or redesigned vehicles will debut this year. General Manager Mark Templin projects a 20 percent sales gain.
"We expect to be the fastest growing luxury brand in the industry," he said.
Toyota still has many models in short supply, Lentz said. On the Toyota side, Prius, Corolla, RAV4 and Tacoma are in the 30-to-35-day range. On the Lexus side, the volume-leading RX 350 crossover is at 15 days, while the brand's top-selling sedan, the ES 350, has only a 14-day supply.
"We are losing some business there," Lentz said. "We should be fully recovered by the close of the first quarter."
Despite the flat corporate sales, some Toyota nameplates topped their segments. The Camry was the best-selling car in America for the 10th straight year. The Corolla was the top-selling compact car, and the Sienna was the best-selling minivan for the first time. Toyota dealers also sold more than 400,000 certified pre-owned vehicles, tops in the industry.
Lentz said it is difficult to measure how many sales Toyota lost to Detroit and Korean rivals because some consumers postponed their sales decisions.
"Many loyal Toyota buyers are willing to wait four to six months for the right product to be available to them," Lentz said. "Many of those customers are coming back now because we have inventory."
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