LOS ANGELES -- For only the third time since the 2009 cash-for-clunkers program, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. sold more than 200,000 vehicles last month, demonstrating that the automaker has firmly rebounded from last year's earthquake.
The 87 percent year-over-year surge in Toyota sales in May is a bit misleading because comparisons with last year's results are skewed by earthquake-related inventory shortages a year earlier.
But even on a raw-numbers basis, Toyota had a strong May.
Toyota vehicles sold at "the fastest pace since the prerecession days of August 2008, not counting the cash-for-clunkers event," said Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager.
Toyota sold nearly 40,000 Camrys in May, keeping the mid-sized sedan the top-selling car in America.
Much of the gain came from young shoppers buying the Camry SE trim level. It now represents 40 percent of Camry volume, with the SE's average 45-year-old buyer bringing overall Camry average buyer age down from 58 for the previous model to 51 in May, Carter said.
Sales of the compact Corolla reached nearly 32,000, almost enough to beat the segment-topping Honda Civic, even though the Corolla is deep into its model cycle and is showing its age.
The RAV4 crossover -- the last Toyota vehicle to recover from quake inventory shortages -- appears back in full swing, despite being in the final year of its model cycle.
With U.S. sales up 24 percent in an overall market that has advanced 13 percent this year, Toyota's U.S. market share has rebounded to 14.5 percent, from 13.3 percent.
Toyota's volume and market share growth are coming mostly from conquest customers, Carter said.
"Our percentage of consumers coming from the Toyota family is very consistent. Our loyalty is heading up, but most of our share increase is coming from competitive trades. We are seeing an influx of new owners to the brand … and many of these conquest buyers coming in are younger," Carter said.
Overall, Toyota's dependence on fleet sales also is waning. Earlier this year, fleet accounted for about 15 percent of deliveries; that dropped to 13 percent of sales in May.
"[May was] the last month fulfilling our commitments to fleet customers. Going forward during June, July and August, total fleet volumes will be below 8 percent, and we will be in single digits for the rest of the year," Carter said.
Toyota intends to "stay aggressive" with marketing efforts in June, including 0 percent financing on many models. Camry will have 2.9 percent financing and a $219 monthly lease deal in much of the country.
Despite what appears to be a big incentives push by Toyota, Carter, citing Edmunds.com and Power Information Network data, said Toyota's incentive spending was among the lowest in the industry, alongside Hyundai and Kia.
"We plan no major change in our incentive position," Carter said. "But it is a payment-driven market, and we have great payments."
With the addition of the Prius C compact, the Prius family continued to sell well, outselling the entire Lexus division in May.
The model split was 61 percent Prius Liftback, 17 percent Prius C, 17 percent Prius V and 5 percent Prius Plug-in.
The Scion brand had modest sales increases, with the launch of the iQ supporting slender gains for the xB and xD hatchbacks. But some cannibalization of tC coupe sales may be occurring as customers await the launch of the FR-S coupe in June.
At Lexus, sales were up 74 percent from May of last year and 14 percent through May.