By David Thomas on May 4, 2009
The sales numbers for April are in, and Toyota took a beating compared to last April’s sales. Down 42.2%, Toyota had a worse April 2009 than Ford (-31.6%), GM (-33.7%), Nissan (-37.8) and Honda (-24%).
What’s causing the decline? Besides the fact that not one model posted a sales increase, we found these four factors within the sales numbers:
The New Toyota Corolla
When a company introduces an all-new model, it usually helps spur sales. Buyers happily gobbled up the old Corolla right up until the new model was released. The new Corolla’s sales, however, are down 42.9% from last April. Honda’s Civic — which was last redesigned three years ago — saw sales decline only 23.2% in the same time period. When your second-highest-volume vehicle sees such a sharp sales drop, it’s hard for new niche vehicles like the Venza to pick up the slack.
The Old Toyota Prius
Gas prices a year ago were $3.62 nationally. Today they’re $2.05. That helps explain the fact that Toyota Prius sales tanked 61%. Not normally a volume seller, Toyota sold a high number, 21,757, last April. That makes the decline even steeper. Take into account the fact that buyers are likely waiting for the all-new Prius to debut later this month, and you have a major loss in sales.
Lexus and Scion
Lexus as a brand was down 39.2%, but its five car models were down 47.8%. Toyota’s youth brand, Scion, saw sales drop 60% in April. While the Lexus numbers aren’t as bad, that brand makes more money per vehicle and sells less volume than Toyota. Scion, on the other hand, saw sales numbers for two-year-old models like the xB (-51.8%) and xD (-69.8%) drop significantly.
Toyota’s light-truck division — including full-size pickups like the Tundra, SUVs like the Land Cruiser and even the Sienna minivan — saw sales drop 47.5%. Toyota is a full-line manufacturer like Ford and Chevy, and this segment of vehicles has been hit hard everywhere, but Toyota took a bigger hit this month because new versions of the Sequoia and the relatively new Tundra saw some success last year, even with gas prices rising. In comparison, Chevy’s light trucks saw sales drop only 20% in April.
What isn’t in the sales figures is consumer attitudes. Right now, many brands are offering huge incentives, even on newly designed vehicles, like the Chevy Traverse crossover. It had $2,250 cash back in April, and it became the best-selling midsize or full-size crossover on the market — better than both Honda’s Pilot and Toyota’s Highlander. Buyers may think the best deals can be had at other brands without ever getting around to checking regional incentives on Toyota models.
The sticker prices of cars like the Toyota Corolla may also dissuade buyers who can find better-equipped entry-level cars for less from companies like Kia.
Toyota’s vaunted reliability is still a major selling point, but it’s clearly not enough to compete right now. Toyota may have to get more aggressive in terms of its product and pricing to turn things around.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David