DETROIT -- A year after Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s recall crisis derailed its two-decade sales march upward, the auto marketing company looks to once again outpace the industry this year, the company's top American executive said Tuesday.
President Jim Lentz conservatively predicted 2011 light-vehicle sales of 12.5 million units, with a slow first half but sales acceleration in the second half.
Speaking at the 2011 Automotive News World Congress, Lentz said that new products such as the Prius V wagon, as well as the redesigned Camry, will pace Toyota's new-vehicle sales. Lentz said Toyota will expand its alternative-fuels lineup with 11 new or redesigned hybrids by the end of 2012, including electric versions of the Scion iQ and RAV4.
“Our loyal owners are back. Our conquest owners are coming back, but not to the position of where they were before the recall,” Lentz said. “We are well on the road to recovery.”
Due to the recall crisis, Toyota sales were flat in 2010, compared to the overall industry increase of 11 percent. However, the Toyota brand remained the No. 1 marque in retail sales.
“We did get a little smaller last year,” Lentz said.
Lentz, 55, gave several reasons for long-term optimism about U.S. auto sales:
• By 2020, the driving age population will have increased by 24 million people, with that demographic pull forcing the auto industry out of its doldrums;
• The scrappage rate is exceeding registrations, and the average age of vehicles on the road is at its oldest since 1998; and
• The number of vehicles less than five years old will be at its lowest level in 27 years in 2013.
“We believe the ‘new normal' means better, more prosperous years ahead for automakers, suppliers and others associated with our industry,” Lentz said.
Regarding the cause of the recall crisis, Lentz admitted that Toyota's vaunted “go and see” system of customer management was not adequate to spot the looming recall crisis.
Not transparent enough
“We missed what the customer was telling us. We didn't listen to what the customer thought was important. We didn't respond adequately to our customers. We weren't very transparent with our regulators,” Lentz said.
He added that Toyota Motor Corp. under the leadership of CEO Akio Toyoda “really believes in regional operations, that decisions have to be made closer to the market, closer to the customer.”
Lentz noted that, among loyal Toyota customers who purchased new vehicles last year, there was a higher loyalty rate among customers who had recall repairs performed than among those who did not.