Toyota Motor Corp. outsold General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG last year, regaining the global sales lead after recovering from natural disasters and record recalls that tarnished its reputation for quality.
Worldwide sales at Toyota, including deliveries from its subsidiaries Hino Motors Ltd. and Daihatsu Motor Co., rose 23 percent to a record 9.75 million units in 2012, according to a statement from the Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker. That compares with the 9.29 million units sold by GM and 9.07 million at Volkswagen.
The maker of the Camry sedan is counting on U.S. demand to help achieve its projection for 9.91 million in annual sales this year, helped by a weakening yen that makes it more competitive against South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. A recovery in China may also help counter an estimated decline in Japanese demand after government incentives expired in September.
“Toyota has fully recovered from the earthquake and natural disasters a year earlier,” said Satoshi Yuzaki, Tokyo-based general manager at Takagi Securities Co. “Japanese carmakers, including Toyota, will continue to benefit from an extremely strong U.S. market.”
Toyota fell 0.6 percent to 4,315 yen at the close in Tokyo. The benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average slid 0.9 percent.
In 2008, Toyota ended GM’s 77-year reign as the world’s largest automaker, holding on to the top annual sales spot until 2011, when it surrendered the title after production was disrupted by natural disasters in Japan and Thailand.
When Akio Toyoda became president in June 2009 of the carmaker his grandfather founded in 1937, the company was reeling from its biggest annual loss and downgrades from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services highest credit ratings. The global recession triggered a 35 percent contraction in U.S. auto demand, Toyota’s largest overseas market.
Deliveries rebounded in 2012 as the recession receded and the Japanese automaker added new products and was spared from disruptions from natural disasters.
Toyoda has sought to widen the Japanese automaker’s appeal beyond its best-selling Camry sedan and Prius hybrid by making its cars more fun to drive.
The automaker introduced the rear-wheel-drive 86 coupe -- featuring a front design that evokes a “predator about to pounce” -- in November 2011 and pegged the price to a college graduate’s starting salary to attract young buyers, according to the company.
This year, the automaker will introduce a revamped Corolla, its second-most popular car in the U.S. in 2012, to compete with Volkswagen’s Golf and Honda Motor Co.’s Civic compact.
Toyota will also work with Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, the world’s biggest maker of luxury vehicles, to produce a midsize sports car and set up partnerships to create fuel-cell systems, lightweight materials and lithium-air batteries, the companies said Jan. 24.
Investor sentiment toward Toyota has improved as the yen dropped against all major currencies in the past month. A dozen analysts covering the company, which reports its quarterly results next week, have raised their earnings estimates for the next fiscal year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Toyoda, who’s also chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said this month that domestic carmakers are “beginning to see the light” with the yen. About 15 months ago, the 56-year-old executive was so pessimistic that he warned Japanese carmakers may collapse under the weight of a local currency that had surged to a postwar high of 75.35.
The Bank of Japan last week announced a shift to Federal Reserve-style open-ended easing, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office last month, has called for “bold monetary policy” to beat deflation and drive the yen lower.
The yen has fallen more than 5 percent in the past month, the biggest decline among 10 developed-nation currencies tracked by Bloomberg Correlation-Weighted Indexes. The Japanese currency reached as low as 91.26 today, the weakest since June 2010.
Toyota’s annual operating profit gains by 35 billion yen for every 1-yen drop in the value of the Japanese currency against the dollar, according to the carmaker.
Among its regions last year, Toyota increased its share of the U.S. market to 14.4 percent from 12.9 percent, narrowing the gap with GM, which accounted for 17.9 percent of sales, according to Autodata Corp., the Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey-based industry researcher. Sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles in the market rose 27 percent to 2.08 million units.
In Japan, Toyota increased sales by 35 percent to 2.41 million units in 2012, as the company rolled out the Aqua, a smaller version of the world’s best-selling hybrid car and sold as the Prius c outside of Japan. Demand was also boosted by government subsidies and tax breaks for fuel-efficient cars.
Overseas sales climbed 19 percent to 7.33 million units, according to the company.
Toyota recorded its first annual sales decline in China last year since at least 2002 and had to push back plans to make the country its third million-unit market, after a territorial dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea escalated and triggered a consumer backlash.
In Europe, sales of Toyota and Lexus cars rose 2 percent to 837,969 units last year, led by a boost in demand for hybrid vehicles, the company said Jan. 10. Regional industrywide sales fell 7.8 percent to 12.5 million cars, shrinking for a fifth consecutive year, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.
Nissan Motor Co. increased global sales 5.8 percent to 4.94 million units, while deliveries at Honda Motor Co. rose 19 percent to 3.82 million.