LOS ANGELES - Once again, victory has come with a price.
Toyota Division, which sold more Camrys than ever before in December, has gone through a predictable January slump.
With inventories down to a 17-day supply at the beginning of the month, and incentive dollars drying up after a December binge, fewer customers drove away in America's best-selling car last month.
The same thing happened last year. After the Camry won its first best-selling car title in 1997, January 1998 Camry sales swooned 50.5 percent, while overall Toyota Division sales dropped 30.1 percent from the previous year.
While Toyota declined to disclose January sales ahead of their scheduled release Tuesday, Feb. 2, a spokesman said, 'We will do better than last year.' The division sold only 18,691 Camrys in January 1998.
Toyota sold 55,050 Camrys in December, spurred by heavy 'Toyotathon' advertising and incentives. With its record month, Toyota outsold the rival Honda Accord, 429,575 units to 401,071, for the calendar-year title.
Both automakers predict increased sales of their mid-sized sedan for 1999, and Toyota will have ramped up its Canadian-built Camry Solara coupe to add another 35,000 units to its total.
Dealers report fewer customers, although Camry traffic is still brisk.
'Obviously, having the No. 1 selling car label doesn't hurt. More people are coming in to find out why its No. 1. It won't be the same as December, but this is a 12-month race,' said Tom Mayrose, general manager of Boulder (Colo.) Toyota.
Ken Hunt, general manager of Longo Toyota in El Monte, Calif., said daily sales rates are still strong but said January sales will be far less because Toyota's December reporting period extended through Jan. 4.
'The difference this year is that we actually have some product. Last year we had even fewer Camrys,' Hunt said.
One reason for inventory still being low: The Camry comes off the same Georgetown, Ky., assembly line as the Avalon sedan and the Sienna minivan. With Honda sparking a minivan war with its new Odyssey, Toyota needs its dealers to be well-stocked with comparable Siennas. And every Sienna that rolls down the assembly line takes away at least one Camry because it takes longer to build the van than the sedan.
Dealers also must do without the national incentive barrage Toyota unleashed in December.