LOS ANGELES -- After two years marred by natural disasters and recalls, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. appears to have regained its momentum.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. ended 2012 with December sales increasing 9 percent. Toyota's total of 2.08 million vehicles sold for the year was up 27 percent over 2011 results, which were hurt by the Japanese earthquake. Still, it was a boost of more than 400,000 units over the previous year and exceeded Toyota's internal forecasts.
"With sales nearly doubling the increase of a healthy industry, Toyota had a breakout year in 2012," CEO Jim Lentz said. "We expect to outperform the industry once again [in 2013] with another nine product launches on the horizon."
Toyota is projecting the industry will hit 14.7 million sales in 2013. But that forecast was made 90 days ago and may be updated after a strong fourth quarter, Lentz said. Also likely to be revised: Toyota's internal sales target of 2.15 million units for next year, a modest gain of 100,000 vehicles.
"We've often been accused of being on the conservative side," Lentz said.
As for 2012 market share, Toyota Motor Sales is again on the rise. The combined 2012 share for the Toyota, Scion and Lexus brands rose to 14.4 percent from 12.9 percent, ending two years of sharp drops.
Its best-ever mark was 17 percent in 2009. The next year, Toyota's share fell to 15.2 percent as the automaker was hammered by recalls and lawsuits that resulted from incidents of unintended acceleration.
Toyota Division reported 1.83 million vehicles sold in 2012, up 27 percent. Lexus finished 2012 with 244,166 units sold, up 23 percent.
But in the sales measure that really counts -- retail sales to consumers -- Toyota Division once again was the No. 1 brand, by nearly 133,000 vehicles, Lentz said. Toyota lost that title last year because of quake-related supply shortages.
"The reason we make a big deal about it is that it is a true indicator of the strength of the overall brand," Lentz said.
Another milestone: the Camry mid-sized sedan finished 2012 as the top-selling car for the 11th straight year, about 70,000 units ahead of its nearest competitor. Equally important to Toyota is that the average age of Camry buyers has come down to 51 years old, from 60 years old for the previous-generation Camry.
Toyota Motor Sales continues to be a dominant presence in hybrid vehicle sales, accounting for 327,413 units, up 83.3 percent over 2011, out of total industry hybrid output of about 500,000 vehicles.
The Lexus brand finished 2012 with a strong December with more than 30,000 units sold, a 20 percent gain spurred by the second-best month ever for the RX crossover. The former luxury-brand champion trailed BMW and Mercedes for the second-straight year, but executives are confident that full years of sales of the redesigned ES, LS and GS sedans, and a redesigned IS arriving in spring, will put Lexus back in the hunt.
The Scion brand, whose youthful buyer base was hammered by the recession's toughened credit requirements, had a 49 percent increase in 2012 thanks to the launch of the FR-S coupe. Next year there should be replacements for the aging xB and xD hatchbacks, which should further spur interest.
Lentz said: "Young buyers are returning to market at a faster rate than any generation."