Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), maker of the Camry sedans and Prius hybrids, led sales of Asian automakers higher in the U.S. last month, gaining market share as deliveries at General Motors Co. (GM) and Ford Motor Co. (F) fell.
The Japanese carmaker posted a 12 percent sales increase from a year earlier, topping eight analysts’ 10 percent average estimate. Deliveries fell 2.2 percent at Honda Motor Co. and 0.3 percent at Nissan Motor Co. (7201) South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) and Kia Motors Corp. (000270) had gains of 0.8 percent and 1 percent.
“Toyota’s recovery has been remarkable,” said Jesse Toprak, industry analyst for TrueCar.com, an automotive pricing and data service. “They’ve not only regained all the market share lost last year, but at a much faster pace than we thought they would.”
Toyota saw U.S. sales and market share contract in 2010 and 2011 from back-to-back crises. Asia’s largest automaker will probably report its biggest profit in seven quarters next week, according to the average analyst estimate compiled by Bloomberg, after the company restored production disrupted by natural disasters in Japan and Thailand last year.
April market share for Toyota rebounded to 15 percent, the highest since December 2010, and rose to 14.3 percent so far this year from 14.1 percent, according to Autodata, based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. GM’s share of new vehicle sales fell 2.1 percentage points last month to 18 percent, and is down 1.9 percentage points to 17.7 percent this year, according to Autodata Corp.
Year’s Fastest Pace
U.S. auto sales have gained 10 percent in the year’s first four months, according to Autodata, helping to buoy a broader improvement in the nation’s economy. Stronger demand for cars and light trucks bolstered the U.S. manufacturing sector, which grew in April at the fastest pace in almost a year, according to the Institute for Supply Management.
Industrywide sales of new autos grew 2.3 percent in April to 1.18 million, according to Autodata, based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Chrysler Group LLC led gains for U.S.-based automakers, with sales up 20 percent. GM, the world’s largest automaker, reported an 8.2 percent decline and Ford said sales fell 5.1 percent.
“We’ve got ourselves steady, sustainable growth in the market,” said Alan Baum, principal of auto-industry forecaster Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “The auto industry is going through a little bit different cycle that is obviously helping the overall economy.”
Sales of the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands rose to 178,044 from 159,540 a year earlier, the Toyota City, Japan-based company said. Toyota’s Camry, the best-selling car in the U.S. for more than a decade, had a 21 percent gain in April, while deliveries of the four-model Prius line more than doubled to 25,168.
“In terms of what the customer is looking for, MPG is still top of mind,” Bob Carter, Toyota’s group vice president of U.S. sales, said in a conference call yesterday.
Prius outsold Corolla, typically Toyota’s No. 2 model by sales after Camry, for the second consecutive month. That may change later in the year as Corolla production expands at Toyota’s Blue Springs, Mississippi, plant, Carter said.
Toyota’s performance this year, led by sales of the Camry, is a contrast to two years ago, when it coped with record recalls for flaws linked to unintended acceleration, followed by natural disasters that left Toyota and Lexus dealers short of vehicle inventory reduced Toyota’s market share to 12.9 percent last year from 17 percent in 2009.
Toyota has a goal of selling at least 220,000 Prius models this year in the U.S., as the addition of the v wagon, c subcompact and plug-in Prius attract new customers. About 72 percent of Prius v buyers haven’t previously bought a Toyota model, Carter said.
Lexus sales fell 0.1 percent in April and have grown only 2.6 percent this year. The luxury brand should post monthly increases of at least 10 percent starting in May, with the addition of models such as the new RX sport-utility vehicle and ES sedan, said Tim Morrison, vice president of Lexus sales and dealer development.
Toyota’s U.S. market share was 15 percent in April, up 1.2 percentage points from a year earlier, according to Autodata.
Honda’s 122,012 deliveries of Honda and Acura models were fewer than April 2011’s 124,799. Still, the Tokyo-based company’s decline was narrower than the average estimate of a 6.7 percent drop from eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Accord sales rose 26 percent and the CR-V small crossover had a 9 percent increase to 23,627 units. An 8.8 percent drop in sales of the Civic compact, Honda’s second-biggest seller, cut the carmaker’s total volume for the month.
Honda’s April market share was 10.3 percent, falling from 10.8 percent a year earlier, according to Autodata.
Sales for Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan dropped 0.3 percent from April 2011, well short of the average estimate of a 19 percent increase from eight analysts.
Deliveries of the Altima sedan, Nissan’s biggest seller in the U.S., fell 5.8 percent. The company also reduced incentives and sold fewer vehicles to daily rental fleets, said David Reuter, a Nissan spokesman.
“All things being equal, Nissan buyers are particularly sensitive to pricing,” said Toprak, the TrueCar analyst. “They cut incentives by about $300 in April, and sales fell in line with that.”
Market share for Nissan was 6 percent last month, a drop of 0.2 percentage point, according to Autodata.
April’s slower sales pace meant Hyundai and affiliate Kia reported their smallest increases in more than a year. Combined sales for the two, which operate separately in the U.S., rose 0.9 percent to 109,814 cars and light trucks. That beat the average estimate of six analysts for a 0.4 percent gain.
Adjusted for “selling days,” which exclude Sundays and holidays, sales rose 26 percent at Toyota, 10 percent at Honda, 12 percent at Nissan and a combined 14 percent at Hyundai and Kia. Some analysts exclude non-selling days to compare results from a year earlier because many dealerships are closed.
April this year had three fewer selling days than in 2011. Last month was just the second in the past 10 years with such a wide disparity, Jim Cain, a GM spokesman, said in an e-mail.
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