But those inroads came at a price. The Japanese spent significantly more on incentives last year than in 2003, mimicking the Big 3 strategies they once criticized.
"Incentive spending by the Big 3 went through the roof, but some of the biggest percentages year-over-year were (recorded by) Toyota and Honda," says Art Spinella, president of CNW/Marketing Research Inc. in Bandon, Ore.
CNW's calculations include not only dealer and manufacturer incentives and subvented financing, but demonstrator vehicles, delayed floor planning, dealer quota trips and award payments as well.
Toyota-brand incentives rose 31.6 percent to $3,149 per vehicle. Nissan-brand incentives increased 26.0 percent to $1,922.
Nissan North America's spending was the lowest of any automaker in 2004 because its product range was fresh, according to CNW.
Frugal Honda Division, faced with an aging product range, leaped into the incentive fray with a 79.5 percent increase in per-vehicle spending.
Honda's Division's 2004 per-vehicle average was $1,967, Spinella says.
The Big 3 spent 7.1 percent more on incentives in 2004 than in 2003, pushing average per-vehicle spending to more than $4,500 per vehicle, according to CNW.
Automotive analyst John Casesa of Merrill Lynch says Japanese automakers upped spending in December to close the year strongly.
Toyota Motor Sales increased incentives by 9.0 percent compared with December 2003, according to Casesa. American Honda Motor Co. was up 42.0 percent, and Nissan North America was up
53.0 percent, Casesa said, citing Autodata research.
"The rise in incentives drove impressive sales and market share gains largely at the expense of the Detroit Three," Casesa wrote.