Toyota Gaining Ground in Quest for More Light Truck Sales

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - Image: Toyota

January was a boffo sales month for Toyota in the United States, with the automaker posting a 16.8 percent year-over-year increase across both the Toyota and Lexus brands. Toyota brand sales rose 17 percent, to the luxury division’s 15 percent.

Don’t expect that kind of growth to continue, says Jack Hollis, Toyota North America’s general manager, as the industry still expects a slump in 2018. More important to Toyota than last month’s sales, however, is the type of vehicles Toyota buyers actually took home. In this case, brand loyalists added crossovers, SUVs, and trucks to their driveway in greater numbers than ever before.

The record set for Toyota light truck sales in the U.S. last month was exactly what the company was hoping for. Still, keeping that truck-buying momentum going is now job one.

Toyota came closer than ever to fixing a persistent product problem last month. As more and more buyers gravitate towards SUVs and trucks, Toyota soon found itself lagging behind the industry average in terms of its cars-to-trucks ratio. Cars — a rapidly shrinking segment — made up too much of Toyota’s sales. Hardly a good way to face the future.

But there’s progress being made on this front. Speaking to Automotive News, Hollis said that over the last four months, American buyers chose light trucks over passenger cars by a ratio of 64:36. Toyota ended 2017 with a sales mix of 58:42. A year earlier, just 53 percent of the company’s U.S. sales were light trucks. In January, however, Toyota cleared the 60 percent bar for the first time, pushing it closer to the industry average (where, presumably, safety lies).

“As we see that, we are gaining more of what the industry is selling,” Hollis said, giving some of the credit for last month’s sales surge to the growing popularity of certain models.

2018 Lexus RX L

While Toyota brand cars saw a year-over-year sales uptick of 5.7 percent in January, demand for Lexus cars fell by 2.3 percent. Toyota pickup sales rose 27.3 percent, year over year, with growth in Tacoma sales amounting to 33.6 percent. The same trend carried over in Toyota’s SUV division, where sales climbed 26.7 percent compared to the previous January. Only old, low-volume models (Sequoia, Land Cruiser) saw any decrease in sales.

At Lexus, sales of the NX, LX, GX, and RX lines rose a combined 23.6 percent. As we’ve seen recently, Toyota’s pulling out all the stops to make its light truck lineup more appealing to buyers. Besides adding the subcompact C-HR crossover to the stable, the automaker introduced a longer, three-row RX and cheaper, two-row LX, with an improved line of TRD Pro off-road models also on the way. Later this year, we’ll see the redesigned RAV4 — a model already in possession of the “best-selling crossover” title.

Despite earlier efforts to squeeze more Tacomas out of its Texas and Mexico assembly plants, Toyota plans to feed the demand with additional production in the near future.

Actually, it’s likely Toyota would already have reached the industry’s 64:36 truck-to-car ratio, were it not for two names: Camry and Corolla. Those two cars, backed up by decades of name recognition and a solid reputation, continue selling well. Suffice it to say, there’s far worse situations an automaker could find itself in.

[Images: Toyota]