LOS ANGELES - For most of this decade, Toyota and Lexus divisions combined have sold about 1.2 million vehicles a year in the United States.
Step back, folks. For the 2000 calendar year, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. wants to blow past 1.5 million units and a 10 percent share of the U.S. market.
To be sure, Toyota has a running start. It sold 1.36 million vehicles in 1998, a 10.6 percent gain over 1997. But Jim Press, Toyota's senior vice president of automotive operations, notes that the 2000 target represents yet another 10 percent growth in unit sales and an estimated 1.3-percentage-point jump in market share.
That's a pretty steep hill for such a short term. So how will Toyota do it?
'We're going to create demand through product development, pricing, marketing and customer care and then attempt to fulfill that demand,' Press said. 'But we're not going to buy the market. What we're doing is a more solid foundation and a lot less volatile.'
The lion's share of Toyota's growth is expected to come from four new vehicles - Toyota's Echo, Tundra and Celica, and the Lexus IS 300 - although some current products likely will have gains, too.
Analysts also predict a Tundra-based sport-utility will be inserted between the 4Runner and Land Cruiser, but Toyota has not confirmed that product.
In fact, even after allowing for cannibalization of the sales of current products when new entries arrive (the accompanying chart assumes flat sales for most of the current products), breaking 1.5 million sales should be easy.
Should current products continue to grow, there is a strong chance that Toyota Motor Sales could crack 1.6 million sales in 2000.
Press is cautious about Toyota's prospects. After all, it is easy to make market-share projections when the market is on a hot streak.
'We have to be realistic about the market outlook,' he said. 'The industry is facing a thermonuclear product war. The level of competition will become more intense as the marketing programs heat up and prices moderate.'
In the next year, Toyota will launch its Tundra full-sized truck. It will introduce the Echo in the basic-transportation segment. It will return to the roots of small sporty coupes with a redesigned Celica. It also will offer a roadster, the alternative-fueled Prius and, perhaps, a Tundra sport-utility. Lexus will get the IS 300, its BMW 3-series fighter.
In addition to the new product lines, Toyota will update several of its most important products. The Corolla, Avalon and 4Runner will be reskinned, and the RAV4 will get a redesign that may include a V-6. At Lexus, the LS 400 flagship and SC coupes will be redesigned for 2000.
Also, mid-1998 additions Toyota Solara and Lexus RX 300 will realize incremental gains from full years of production.
Toyota's already pressed North American plants are the key to the planned growth in volume. Those plants churned out 857,520 cars and trucks last year; next year, they will build 1 million as Toyota's plants in Princeton, Ind., and Cambridge, Ontario, come up to speed.
This growth spurt for Toyota through the late 1990s is not typical of the company. Toyota has maintained a slow-growth pattern; whether the market is up, flat or falling down, Toyota usually grows a couple of percentage points a year.
'When we create a sales level in our mind, we don't benchmark a best-case scenario,' Press said. 'We have to look at up and down market cycles, too. If times are good, we might do better than 1.5 million, or if they are bad, we might do worse. But that's where our sales trend is going.'
Press also said he wants to avoid outstripping the abilities of Toyota's dealer body.
'We need to look at our after-sales capacity to harvest the benefits of these sales,' he said. 'We have to be careful that we drive the organization based on our service and parts capacity and not just our sales potential. We want our buyers to be advocates for life.'