By on February 10, 2018

2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - Image: Toyota

January was a boffo sales month for Toyota in the United States, with the automaker posting a 16.8 percent year-over-year increase across both the Toyota and Lexus brands. Toyota brand sales rose 17 percent, to the luxury division’s 15 percent.

Don’t expect that kind of growth to continue, says Jack Hollis, Toyota North America’s general manager, as the industry still expects a slump in 2018. More important to Toyota than last month’s sales, however, is the type of vehicles Toyota buyers actually took home. In this case, brand loyalists added crossovers, SUVs, and trucks to their driveway in greater numbers than ever before.

The record set for Toyota light truck sales in the U.S. last month was exactly what the company was hoping for. Still, keeping that truck-buying momentum going is now job one.

Toyota came closer than ever to fixing a persistent product problem last month. As more and more buyers gravitate towards SUVs and trucks, Toyota soon found itself lagging behind the industry average in terms of its cars-to-trucks ratio. Cars — a rapidly shrinking segment — made up too much of Toyota’s sales. Hardly a good way to face the future.

But there’s progress being made on this front. Speaking to Automotive News, Hollis said that over the last four months, American buyers chose light trucks over passenger cars by a ratio of 64:36. Toyota ended 2017 with a sales mix of 58:42. A year earlier, just 53 percent of the company’s U.S. sales were light trucks. In January, however, Toyota cleared the 60 percent bar for the first time, pushing it closer to the industry average (where, presumably, safety lies).

“As we see that, we are gaining more of what the industry is selling,” Hollis said, giving some of the credit for last month’s sales surge to the growing popularity of certain models.

2018 Lexus RX L

While Toyota brand cars saw a year-over-year sales uptick of 5.7 percent in January, demand for Lexus cars fell by 2.3 percent. Toyota pickup sales rose 27.3 percent, year over year, with growth in Tacoma sales amounting to 33.6 percent. The same trend carried over in Toyota’s SUV division, where sales climbed 26.7 percent compared to the previous January. Only old, low-volume models (Sequoia, Land Cruiser) saw any decrease in sales.

At Lexus, sales of the NX, LX, GX, and RX lines rose a combined 23.6 percent. As we’ve seen recently, Toyota’s pulling out all the stops to make its light truck lineup more appealing to buyers. Besides adding the subcompact C-HR crossover to the stable, the automaker introduced a longer, three-row RX and cheaper, two-row LX, with an improved line of TRD Pro off-road models also on the way. Later this year, we’ll see the redesigned RAV4 — a model already in possession of the “best-selling crossover” title.

Despite earlier efforts to squeeze more Tacomas out of its Texas and Mexico assembly plants, Toyota plans to feed the demand with additional production in the near future.

Actually, it’s likely Toyota would already have reached the industry’s 64:36 truck-to-car ratio, were it not for two names: Camry and Corolla. Those two cars, backed up by decades of name recognition and a solid reputation, continue selling well. Suffice it to say, there’s far worse situations an automaker could find itself in.

[Images: Toyota]

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37 Comments on “Toyota Gaining Ground in Quest for More Light Truck Sales...”


  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’d like to see Toyota bring out a mini-minivan, in both passenger and commercial versions.

    Ford has recently started pushing the passenger version of the Transit Connect as a lower-priced alternative to the “minivans” of today. They clearly think there’s a market for it.

    Build it in North America to avoid the Chicken Tax. Then they could undercut both Ford and FCA on pricing. Maybe a hybrid version as well.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Mazda tried that with the Mazda5, and it bombed. The US market is not like the Euro-market where mini-minivans are popular Mom-mobiles.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      If Ford can afford to pay the Chicken tax, Toyota can’t? Except Ford isn’t paying a chicken tax on Connects when they come over with rear passenger seats (“Wagon” version), but they sure are taking their sweet time, while continuing to pay the tax on “Cargo” Transit Connects.

      But that may be why they’re pimping Wagon Connects, simply offsetting the tax.

  • avatar
    pprj

    Wished Toyota and/or Lexus offered Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    Who knew!? Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Selling light trucks is stupid and short-sighted for Ford, GM and FCA. But, for Toyota, its brilliant!

      Just like fleet sales. Proof of crappy cars when its GM, Ford and FCA, but proof of reliability when its Toyota and Nissan.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        JT, it’s all about making the money, any which way you can.

        And I’m the guy who is all for choice and “the more, the merrier.”

        For the three decades that my four brothers were in the bid’ness, trucks were their most profitable lines. And they sold both Ford and GMC albeit in different states. Later also Tundra in CA.

        Over the four decades past, a huge number of Americans voted with their feet and their wallets away from the domestics and into the open arms of quality, durability, reliability and dependability that Toyota and Honda offered.

        Loyalty is earned, and very fragile. Once lost, and the trust broken, it becomes like Humpty Dumpty — something that cannot be put together again.

        I’ve been there. From 1965 – 2008 all I bought were domestics.

        But no more.

        I’m too old now to do the wrenching and tooling I did to keep my vehicles running when I was a much younger man. Now I want to drive appliances that go when I want them to go, and go where I point them to go.

        For those that simply have to Buy American, for whatever reason, there is only ONE brand to buy — FORD!

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          Meanwhile Toyota trucks are the most inefficient with dated engines and no diesel option. Their full size SUVs are off most people’s list due to smaller size and poor fuel economy.

          Most cars and trucks today are dependable. But Toyota and Honda think they can charge a premium for something someone is also selling. Your thinking is one of an older mind set or just narrow in the automotive scene today

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Norm, my thinking is based on my own experiences over the past five decades.

            People who choose to buy Toyota trucks don’t care about paying the premium or lower FE and mpg. They bought into the track record of the brand like Americans bought into the Detroit 3 of the fifties and sixties, when there was less choice.

            It’s true that ALL American brand cars and trucks are hugely better today than even 10 or more years ago.

            That happened because they were at the bottom and had no way to go but UP.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        If “light trucks currently have greater profits” is used as an excuse for the inability to successfully compete in more competitive segments, it can sure look a bit risky….

        Ultimately, the processes required to efficiently build high quality vehicles, don’t differ that much between “light truck” and “car.” Being at the front, or at least in the runnings, in virtually every segment low to high small to large, is a pretty good indication Toyota has those processes down. Or at least as down as anybody. Something extreme dependence on one, albeit currently fashionable, segment, doesn’t necessarily do. Doubly so at the shimmering peak of the biggest credit bubble in all of history.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Some people who were enamored with Japan-built Toyota products won’t come near the North American-built versions again.

          Among them my wife’s three sisters who each owned a Made in America Highlander (2009, 2010 and 2011). Too many problems and recalls with those.

          OTOH, our old 2008 Japan-built Highlander is still doing DD duties for my grand daughter in El Paso, TX, with well over 185K on the odo.

          I just put a new Interstate battery in it, along with four new Michelin Tires from Discount Tires. (Great prices)

          • 0 avatar
            brn

            Maybe Toyota doesn’t know how to make vehicles in this country. We’ve a Ford made in (near) Chicago and one made in Kentucky. Never an issue with either that couldn’t be solved for under $20.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            brn, I wish my GM and Ford products that I owned over the decades had been that good.

            They weren’t. I made the switch in 2008, cautiously at first.

            But now I’m all in, all Toyota, all the time.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Simple math would tell them (anyone) there’s more money to be made from bigger vehicles. More profit per pound, but you have to sell a lot of them, especially if they’re BOF, and or pickups. I’m sure they’re realizing Fleet sales (of pickups especially) aren’t so bad.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Oh they love fleet sales, but its more Camry and Corolla than it is Tacoma and Tundra. They aren’t built or marketed as trucks for work, they’re for play and image. Nissan seems to be the only company (outside of the Americans) interested in building products for actual work.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Toyota’s managed to sell successfully to both private and fleet and I think the only reason some around here mock this is because they’ve managed to do it better than certain favored domestic brands. Brand jealousy runs deep.

        Ford has far more offerings for the enthusiast, including apparently a half ton pickup sold some 700K strong each year for the real “work” of commuting rather than the “image” by which they are marketed, but Toyota’s reported annual profits and stock performance over the past 5 and 20 years suggests they have the business formula down. Not great for the enthusiast, but I know which I’d rather have in my retirement portfolio.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      “Small cars, small profits.” – Henry Ford II

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Their mix probably would have been close to the industry average if it were not for the fleet dumping of the Camry and Corolla. The trucks on the other hand do not go into fleets in great numbers. You’ll find an occasional Tacoma in gov’t and large private fleets but I’ve yet to see a Tundra in that use.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I second Scoutdude here. Being out here in the Southwest, surrounded by government agencies of state and federal variety I’ll say that I have yet to see either a Tacoma or a Tundra in the Government Fleet.

        Current fleet queen as far as trucks go is the RAM followed by the Colorado – unless you’re talking about law enforcement. Navajo Nation Police have a healthy sprinkling of Silverado crew cabs to compliment the Tahoes that many police agencies have.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Military juntas love the Tacoma, they mount M60s in the beds. I don’t know if they get fleet pricing though. Ford, GM, and Ram are missing out on a bonanza. The flimsy aluminum bed on the F-150 may not be up to the task. Militants might not be sold on the look of the new Chevy. Ram would be problematic for any cabal, Sergio may sell the company to the oppressive state they are fighting, thus creating a conflict of interest.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I know the whole post is in jest, but for what it’s worth (to the rest of the OCD/pedantic crowd that browses TTAC), rarely has anyone used a Tacoma in a military setting, the notable exception was US Spec Ops in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. In that case I guess it was just easier to source American Tacomas for an American up-fitter to deck out with MG mounts and such. They liked the quieter 3.4L gas v6 for stealthier movement than a standard clattery Hilux diesel as well. 2nd/3rd gen 4Runners have been reportedly been used as well, the latter gaining a reputation for losing front wheels when driven flat out across A-stan’s beat up roads.

      The go-to is most definitely the Hilux (much heavier duty frame and leaf-pack for high payload), as well as the pickup-bed Land Cruiser 70. Both fall under Toyota’s “heavy duty” global designation. The Tacoma by comparison is a softer riding recreational-use vehicle at its core. Lighter frame for better MPG, softer leaf-pack for better ride (at a cost of payload), and until I believe the current generation of Hilux, a different front suspension design that again trades durability for handling and articulation offroad. Tacoma has double wishbones, Hilux used torsion bars.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        I wondered why the Tacoma still has drum brakes.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          They work well and don’t rust up.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            And Norm will dispute it into his grave but Tacoma, 4Runner, and Tundra are top of the heap in resale value in their respective classes. (The only one that surprises me in that is Tundra because, sales aren’t that high AND the engine transmission tech in the Tundra is behind the competition.)

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Tundra resale isn’t surprising in the least. The ’07+ generation is (IMO) far and away the most reliable and over-built half-ton of that generation (late 2000s). The limited sales serve only to drive used prices even higher, since supply is constrained and people shopping for a Tundra generally only want a Tundra and nothing else. They’re quite huge and bulbous (both to look at and to drive), and compared to the current crop of half tons quite thirsty. But as the years and miles pile on I’ve yet to hear of any serious pattern failure on them. The size of the suspension hardware/brakes/axles is definitely more 3/4 ton than half ton, which may explain their weight and thirst and how they drive.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            But look at it this way.

            Tacoma – very popular, fiercely loyal following, although the 3.5 V6 isn’t that great, there hasn’t been a truly terrible generation of Tacoma. (I’m looking at you POS 1st gen Colorado/Canyon.)

            4Runner – essentially a class of 1 and has a fiercely loyal following.

            Tundra – outsold by almost everything in a very crowed field and the Ford, GM, and Ram competition have a devoted/rabid fan base.

            THAT’S why the resale on a Tundra is a mystery to me.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Excellent comment gtem. Thanks for the education. Gimme that sweet “pickup-bed Land Cruiser 70.”

  • avatar
    Penvon

    The hate for this company is real & quite comedic.

  • avatar
    ernest

    So Toyota’s upping their game in the light truck segments, while increasing passenger car sales in the face of declining sales in that segment. Shocker.

    The only segments Toyota hasn’t mastered are the full-size Pickup and SUV segments. They have entries, but the domestic brands still own these segments. I don’t see that situation changing anytime soon.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    GM, Ford & FCA had better watch their backs, as Toyota is sneaking up with their trucks. Some love them, others won’t go near them, but whoever proves their product reliability is best, they may win in the long run.

    Me? I still prefer GM, but not like I used to. Being retired, I’ve bought my last new car, and whatever I replace my 2012 Impala with is anybody’s guess.

    Many preach the gospel of Toyota, but their products simply don’t “speak” to me.

    Who knows? Time will tell.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Not really.

      https://www.tfltruck.com/2017/03/truck-sales-february-2017/

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      I hate Toyota: They’re the McDonald’s, Walmart, IKEA of the auto world.

      That said, I’m closer to buying a Toyota now that I ever was, ugliness and all. I still won’t buy one… but they’re approaching the edge of my radar for two reasons:

      Putting advanced safety features on most of their cars, and for how they deal with product recalls – for example replacing the frames of their tin-pot trucks was a step in the right direction.

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