Friday, February 1, 2013

Toyota back on top as global auto sales champ

Toyota back on top as global auto sales champ

Paul A. Eisenstein , The Detroit Bureau

Toyota has officially reclaimed its global sales crown, the maker confirming it produced 9.75 million vehicles in 2012.

That was slightly ahead of a preliminary tally Toyota forecast as the year came to a close and locks it in first place ahead of General Motors, which sold 9.29 million vehicles. Volkswagen, at 9.1 million, came in third for 2012.

Toyota’s sales were slightly lower than the company had projected earlier in the year, the shortfall reflecting the ongoing dispute between Japan and China over a chain of small, uninhabited islands both nations claim.

In customary fashion, Toyota officials downplayed the sales results. “Rather than going after numbers, we hope to make fine products, one by one, to keep out customers satisfied. The numbers are just a result of our policy. And our policy will continue unchanged,” Toyota spokeswoman Shino Yamada told the Associated Press.

Nonetheless, it marked a significant comeback for the Japanese giant which first captured the global sales crown in 2008, displacing GM after seven decades as the sales leader. The U.S. maker plunged into bankruptcy the following year, recovering only with the assistance of a massive government loan.

With production back to normal, Toyota saw its sales in the home Japanese market surge 35% in 2012 while overseas sales jumped 23%. Adding additional models to the “family,” the Prius line firmed up its position as the world’s best-selling hybrid nameplate.Toyota briefly fell to third in the global chase in 2011, the maker suffering significant production cuts in the wake of Japan’s March earthquake and tsunami. It didn’t fully restore its worldwide production network to normal operations until the end of the year.

But not everything went as well as expected – notably in China where Toyota was just one of many Japanese businesses to suffer as the dispute over the Senkuko Islands – which the Chinese call the Daioyu – flared up. A Toyota dealership was torched and mobs destroyed many of the maker’s products. Sales fell by roughly half in the early weeks of the dispute though they have begun to recover more recently.

Toyota did have some other issues, notably a surge of safety-related problems including additional recalls related to the maker’s unintended acceleration issue. In all, Toyota recalled more vehicles than any other maker in the American market in 2012, and it ended the year by agreeing to an estimated $1.2 billion settlement related to the unintended acceleration issue. Even so, most analysts say the maker’s reputation escaped with relatively little damage.

Toyota is forecasting another increase in sales for 2013, hoping to reach a record 9.91 million. That is still short of an earlier projection of at least 10 million, however.

General Motors officials have not yet set out their own forecast and that could depend on the strength of the ongoing U.S. recovery. Earlier this month, Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said the maker expected sales in the States to reach somewhere between 15.0 million and 15.5 million for 2013.

The wild card is Volkswagen, the aggressive German maker laying out plans to snatch the sales ground by the time it wraps up its current, 10-year growth plan in 2016. The weakness of the home European market could delay that strategy, though VW hopes to offset that by stressing China, Latin America and the recovering U.S. market where it was one of the fastest-growing brands in 2012

Copyright 2013 The Detroit Bureau

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