Trucks lift Toyota, Lexus

The Toyota brand achieved a 4.7 percent U.S. sales gain in 2015.

Toyota Motor Corp. posted its highest December sales ever, and Lexus moved into second place among U.S. luxury brands with its best year in history.

Lexus sales rose 11 percent in 2015 to 344,601 cars and light trucks. That put the 27-year-old brand between BMW, at 346,023, and Mercedes-Benz, whose sales totaled 343,088, excluding the Sprinter van.

Lexus achieved records “in just about every measure that we track,” said Jeff Bracken, a Toyota group vice president and the brand’s general manager.

Bracken said the high number of leases scheduled to end this year should help Lexus do even better, and that it planned to spend more of its advertising resources working to keep those customers with the brand.

Its 2015 performance was due entirely to the year-old RC coupe and NX crossover, which added 53,699 vehicles compared with 2014. The brand’s other nameplates combined for a loss of 20,487, with only the GS and GX posting year-over-year increases.

The Toyota brand achieved a 4.7 percent gain on the year, while Scion dropped 3.2 percent, its third consecutive year of declining sales.

“Scion continues to perform its role for Toyota, bringing in young millennial buyers who are new to our brand,” Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, said on a conference call with reporters.

Sales of the Toyota Division’s cars fell 0.3 percent in 2015, while its light-truck sales rose 11 percent. RAV4 sales rose 18 percent to a record 315,412, surging ahead of the Ford Escape into second place among compact crossovers. The Tacoma, redesigned for the 2016 model year, increased 20 percent in December and 16 percent on the year.

“Tacoma is probably the hottest vehicle we have right now,” Fay said.

Toyota notched record sales for the Corolla, up 7 percent to 363,332, and Highlander, up 8.8 percent to 158,915.

The Camry retained its title as the nation’s top-selling car for a 14th consecutive year, with sales up 0.2 percent to 429,355. That compares with a 2 percent decline for the midsize sedan segment.

“Camry was a great industry story because we actually sold more Camrys this year than we did last year in a declining segment,” Fay said. “Going forward we’re in a great position.”

You can reach Nick Bunkley at -- Follow Nick on Twitter: @nickbunkley

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