Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. sales fell 8 percent in October as the automaker struggled to backfill inventories crimped by the March earthquake.
The decline in sales was the smallest on a percentage basis since the quake and left Toyota's U.S. sales down 9 percent this year through October in a market that has advanced 10 percent.
However, with inventories sharply on the rise, Toyota is launching its Toyotathon and Lexus "December to Remember" sales events this week, rather than closer to Thanksgiving.
As is typical for Toyota, the incentives will mostly involve APR and lease deals, rather than customer cash – although some regions have flexibility to make those sorts of deals.
Toyota Division had 120,000 units in inventory at the beginning of October; that has increased to 159,000 now, said Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager.
He wants to see 200,000 units in stock, hopefully by the end of the year, up from 90,000 units during the summer.
"We are really in a much different place beginning November than we were a month ago. The shortages are really behind us," Carter said.
"We will quickly, with our pipeline, get into 170,000 units in dealer stocks very soon. At that level, we aren't missing any business. There might be some spottiness in some [vehicles' trim levels] in some particular metros," he added.
The increase in stockpiles will come largely from the Tupelo, Miss., plant that is coming online to build the Corolla, as well as Toyota reaching full production of the redesigned 2012 Camry.
Toyota said 35,000 Camrys will be delivered to U.S. dealers in November, compared to just 13,000 units in dealer stock at the beginning of October.
Similarly, RAV4 inventories were as low as 6,000 units in August, and are now at about 15,000 units, but are still well below the target of the low-mid 20,000-unit range, Carter said.
On the positive side of the sales chart, the launch of the Yaris subcompact has exceeded expectations. Sales hit nearly 7,000 units in the first month, more than triple its projected volume.
Not as heartening were SUV, crossover and minivan sales, all of which showed declines. And while the freshened Tacoma pickup showed strong gains over anemic results a year ago, the Tundra continues to struggle.
On the Lexus side, only the LS flagship showed an increase, while the CT 200h hybrid hatchback continued a strong launch. But all other car and light-truck lines at Lexus declined year-over-year.
Lexus Division general manager Mark Templin said the brand's pipeline is finally "filled up" with "a good healthy inventory."
However, executives expressed some caution that flooding in Thailand might curtail some production.
Most of Toyota's Thai supply base is Tier 2 and 3 sub-suppliers that make electronics, gaskets and small rubber parts. Toyota already has canceled overtime at its North American plants as a precautionary measure.