Something must be wrong if the world's biggest automaker can't ride the ever-building wave of sales growth in the world's biggest auto market.
Toyota's U.S. sales slid 4 percent last month as the overall market rose 13 percent. But more troubling was a 6 percent drop to 61,000 vehicles in China in October. It was Toyota's first year-on-year decline in the country since April 2009.
Toyota is playing catch-up to China's markets leaders: General Motors, Volkswagen and Hyundai. But this year's recall troubles, combined with political tensions between Beijing and Tokyo, have made things even tougher.
China's total market sales in October aren't out yet. Overall industry demand may have actually contracted. But that seems unlikely. The country's insatiable appetite for wheels drove passenger-car sales 41 percent higher to 8.53 million through September.
Including October's results, Toyota's sales in China were still up 17 percent for the year. But why do they lag the market -- and why have they slid into reverse? Toyota didn't offer any explanations, but there are theories.
First, Toyota is still hurting from this year's recall crisis. In China, Toyota can't lean on a long history of customer loyalty because many customers are first-time buyers.
Second, the recent outbreak of anti-Japanese nationalism in China is likely hitting a company that many see as the archetypal Japanese corporate entity. The diplomatic tensions, over disputed islets in the East China Sea, are spurring calls to boycott Japanese goods in China.