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Toyota cites weather for 4% sales drop

Fay: 'Looking forward to getting this winter behind us'

LOS ANGELES -- Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s February sales dropped 4 percent to 159,284 units, although the automaker said it still led the industry in retail deliveries to consumers.

Toyota Division, including Scion, dropped 6 percent to 140,429 units, while Lexus increased 9 percent to 18,855 sales.

"Recent economic reports indicate the unusually harsh winter had an effect on economic activity and on auto sales," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager.

"We had some disruption in production and rail service, especially from our Canadian [factory] operations. If you look at the first 60 days of the year, our Western, Mountain and Southern areas are a little ahead of last year. Where we are off is where weather has impacted sales the most. It will all balance itself out over the next couple months," Fay added.

As usual, Camry led Toyota sales with 28,998 units, down 7 percent. It was surpassed by a fleet-heavy Nissan Altima for best-selling-car honors for the month. The Corolla was the only Toyota volume passenger car showing an increase, up 1 percent to 25,299 units, its best February since 2007.

On the truck side, the RAV4 (up 23 percent), Highlander (up 30 percent) and 4Runner (up 17 percent) all showed strong gains. The RAV4 and Highlander both posted best-ever February results. Tundra (up 8 percent to 7,923 units) had its best February since 2008. But Sienna minivan sales were off 20 percent.

March typically starts a sales uptick, and Toyota will prime the pump with a "No. 1 for Everyone" national sales event campaign, Fay said.

The brand will feature low interest rates and affordable lease payments -- including a continuation of 24-month leases that started this year, "which seem to be getting some traction in some parts of the country," Fay said.

"We're looking forward to getting this winter behind us," Fay said. "It certainly delayed some purchases, which should result in a strong spring selling season."

Despite the slow start to the year, Toyota is holding to its industrywide forecast for a 16 million-unit sales year.

Fay said Toyota's incentives will be "competitive" in March, following Chevrolet's announcement that it would have "unprecedented" promotion levels in March on the Malibu mid-sized sedan, among other vehicles.

"We try to execute our plan," Fay said. "We're in a good position going into March. We look at what's going on and make necessary adjustments. We'll keep an eye on Chevrolet, but we don't get cross-shopped a lot with Malibu. They are not a primary competitor."

Industrywide fleet sales were off 6 percent, but Toyota's dropped 20 percent from an unexpectedly high fleet buy last February. Fay said Toyota will maintain its annual fleet percentage at between 8 and 10 percent of total sales.

Lexus had its best February since 2008 and outperformed the luxury segment average. Lexus also will stage a March sales campaign, called "Command Performance," said Jeff Bracken, Lexus Division general manager.

The volume-leading RX crossover dropped 18 percent, but the IS sedan more than doubled its volume from a sell-down in early 2013. The GS is showing a resurgence from an uneven 2013, with a 42 percent gain. Lexus' top-selling passenger car, the ES, dropped 10 percent.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at -- Follow Mark on Twitter: @markrechtin

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