Toyota cars slip, trucks rise

Any lingering doubts about Toyota’s decision to shut down the youthful Scion car brand may have been doused by the Japanese automaker’s U.S. sales results in February.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. recorded a 13 percent rise in truck sales and a 3.2 percent decline in car sales, underscoring the market shift reflected in Toyota’s Feb. 3 decision to pull the plug on the car-only brand this summer.

Overall February sales increased 4.1 percent to 187,954 vehicles across the Toyota, Lexus and Scion lines. Still, Toyota trailed the industry while surrendering its year-earlier No. 2 position in U.S. market share to Ford Motor Co. The U.S. rival notched a 20 percent sales gain last month.

Aside from the trusty Toyota Corolla compact sedan, every car from the three brands that was available a year ago fared worse this February. The struggles reflect a shift toward crossovers, which Scion had never sold since its formation in 2003.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of U.S. operations at Toyota, predicted in December that the RAV4 would dethrone the Camry midsize sedan as Toyota’s best-selling model in the United States within five years.

Last month, the Camry held off the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima to remain No. 1, but Camry sales decreased 1.6 percent to 32,405. Meanwhile, RAV4 sales rose 16 percent to 25,523, beating the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Nissan Rogue in the red-hot compact crossover segment.

With more customers opting for trucks, Toyota’s average transaction prices rose 3.1 percent to $31,364 in February, outpacing the industry, according to TrueCar. The online shopping site said Toyota’s incentives rose 8.3 percent to $2,049 per vehicle — more than Honda or Hyundai but shy of the industry average of $2,975.

For the Lexus brand in particular, truck sales rose 18 percent in February, led by the NX and RX crossovers. Car sales declined 16 percent.

Still, an overall 0.4 percent gain for Lexus was enough to top BMW and Mercedes (minus the Sprinter and Metris) for the month. The German rivals have owned U.S. luxury bragging rights since Lexus last held the annual crown in 2010.

“It’s no surprise to us that our SUV lineup continues to propel our sales performance,” Jeff Bracken, general manager of Lexus, said in a statement.

Bracken insisted February wasn’t a good month only for trucks. Both the CT hybrid and RC coupe beat their sales targets, he said, “validating the appeal of these models to the next generation of luxury consumer.”

If that is true, Lexus does not seem to be expecting very much from these cars. Lexus reported a 22 percent decline for the CT, with 762 sold. Sales of the flashy RC, which went on sale in late 2014, fell 6.5 percent to 920 units.

Scion sales did rise 52 percent for the month, skewed by the September 2015 launch of the Mazda-sourced iA sedan and the iM hatchback. Even so, Scion’s sales totaled 5,882 vehicles in February, fewer than the Toyota Prius alone.

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