Collectively and through the first three quarters of the year, Toyota and Lexus sales slipped 15.4 percent in the U.S. to 1,571,714. If the pace of decline holds steady in the fourth quarter, it would mean the Japanese automaker -- which sold 2,332,262 vehicles last year -- would finish the year at around 1,973,000 sales — the first time it would be under 2 million U.S. sales since suffering the effects of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in its home nation in 2011.
By comparison, GM's sales dropped 7.2 percent through the first nine months to 1,639,591, including a 25 percent gain in the third quarter over last year.
"We're still selling every car we can build," David Christ, head of the Toyota division, told Automotive News on Monday in an exclusive interview. "Every month, it seems that a new issue pops up that we weren't expecting."
One example: In August, Toyota's U.S. sales were down 9.8 percent because it had trouble finding sufficient rail cars to move its production to dealers.
"We made that up in September," when sales jumped 17 percent, Toyota's first year-over-year increase since June 2021, Christ explained. "So we kind of just pushed [sales] from one month to the next, and we think kind of that same vibe is going to happen for the rest of the year, meaning we're going to be richer in some months and hungry in other months, and we're going to work through it."
What happens in the fourth quarter may come down to luck as much as perseverance.
Toyota hasn't released a formal full-year projection, but Christ said that internally, the automaker is expecting to be "flat or down a little bit" from the 2,332,262 vehicles it sold in the U.S. in 2021. As it is across most of the rest of the industry, the problem remains with supply, not demand.
"It's a very tenuous state in the supply chain still," Christ said, adding that his brand started October with just 16,157 vehicles in dealer stocks, "including about 3,000 in Florida markets where [Hurricane Ian] put them out of business for a few days." The Toyota brand had another 103,080 vehicles in its logistics pipeline waiting to be delivered to dealer lots, and Christ said the brand had "almost a month" of pre-sold customer orders still waiting to be either produced or delivered.
On the smaller but more profit-rich Lexus side of the Japanese automaker's house, the extreme inventory constraints from earlier this year — at one point, Lexus dealers in the U.S. had just about 1.5 days of inventory on their lots — have eased slightly, though unsold stocks remain "slim pickings," said new Lexus head Dejuan Ross.