Toyota Leaves Champagne Corked After Topping GM In Sales

Now that Toyota has posted global sales that top General Motors' worldwide first-quarter sales, the Japanese company will probably ... do nothing.

Toyota, which has devoted a lot of corporate ad dollars over the past few years in promoting the fact that it makes cars and trucks in America for American consumers and employs Americans in the process has downplayed this latest news.

The company has not reported the news on its Web sites or celebrated the event at headquarters here or in Tokyo--or, reportedly, at any of its U.S. plants.

Toyota is the first global automaker to overtake GM in worldwide sales in 75 years. The company sold 2.35 million vehicles worldwide in the first quarter this year. General Motors sold 2.26 million cars and light trucks. In the U.S., No. 3 Toyota--behind GM and Ford, with market share around 15.6%--saw U.S. sales increase 11.7% last month.

Although Toyota may be concerned about consumer backlash, analysts say such an event is unlikely. And while pickup truck buyers are thus far loyal to Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and to a lesser extent, Dodge Ram--together constituting around 80% of the pickup market--Toyota has garnered strong early interest for its redesigned Tundra. Toyota has also stated that its goal for Tundra is modest: 200,000 units per year. By contrast, even with sales slipping, Ford has delivered over 900,000 F-Series pickup trucks per year.



Jim Hossack, consultant with Tustin, Calif.-based AutoPacific, says Toyota shouldn't be too worried. "Sure, there's a reason for them to have a degree of concern, and truck buyers are notoriously patriotic, and they are pro-American and pro-American brand, but I think Toyota has convincingly demonstrated that if you build a great product at a great price, people will buy it."

AutoPacific this month released an Image and Consideration Tracking Study based on 1,254 panelists responding to an Internet survey that showed that consumers' opinion of the Japanese Big Three and Korean brands has increased, while domestic brand reputation is heading south.

Per the study, opinion of Toyota got strong marks for durability, quality and reliability, value and its hybrid technology, while getting negative response for building a "gas guzzling" big pickup truck and having bland styling.

Per the study, consumer opinion of GM deteriorated over the past year, but less so than Ford and Chrysler. Panelists gave GM kudos for product improvements, better styling, interior designs and better materials, plus the new 100,000-mile warranty.

While opinion of Ford Motor Company has deteriorated due to questions about its management and leadership, finances, staff cuts and whether the company can develop strong products, Ford gets props for its Fusion, Milan, MKZ cars and the Edge and MKX crossovers.

Chrysler scored worst in the survey, with the biggest negative that DaimlerChrysler put Chrysler Group up for sale and that a buyer has not yet been announced.

In March, sales of Dodge Ram were off 5%; Ford's F-Series pickup slipped 15%; sales of Chevrolet Silverado were off 12%, and sales of sibling GMC Sierra were down 18%. But sales of Tundra were up 8%.

Hossack says that Toyota will do far better than the 200,000 units it has predicted for the new Tundra, once it has expanded the line to include a super duty and other versions." When they do that, the 200,000 target becomes a lot bigger."

Toyota, which builds the Tundra in its San Antonio, Texas, plant that opened last year, has centered corporate advertising in recent years on both its hybrid power train and its American operations.

In 2004, Toyota launched "Good Business," a corporate ad campaign focusing on U.S. operations, touting job creation. Since the launch, the print effort has highlighted the San Antonio plant, as well as Toyota operations in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

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