• After a mostly lackluster 2010, when U.S. sales were flat at 1.76 million and its reputation took a beating due to an unintended-acceleration scandal, Toyota is buoyant as January deliveries rise 17.3% on a daily basis against year-ago, when media attention surrounding “runaway” Toyotas began to flourish.

To woo new customers who may have crossed the Japanese auto maker off their shopping lists, Toyota launches a first-quarter promotion offering 0% financing for 60 months on most core models, including the Camry and Corolla. “We want to build on January’s momentum,” Toyota Div. Group Vice President Bob Carter says, adding loyalty and conquest rates for the Toyota brand have returned to pre-recall levels.

• Released in late 2008 in the thick of the economic downturn, the Venza cross/utility vehicle gets a marketing push in 2011. Toyota chief Carter tells WardsAuto the auto maker planned to promote the Venza in 2010 but “changed direction because of circumstances we were in.”

Sales of the CUV spike in July during a flurry of advertising, but Venza deliveries through October fall 17% behind like-2010 to 33,157 units.

• A nearly yearlong study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. and engineers from the National Aeronautics and Space Admin. finds no instances of unintended acceleration caused by faulty electronics in Toyota vehicles.

After bombarding Toyota and Lexus models with electromagnetic radiation, no new flaws are discovered beyond the sticking accelerator pedals and faulty floor mats that earlier forced a recall of nearly 8 million vehicles in the U.S.

Critics, plaintiffs in lawsuits and their lawyers are unimpressed by the news, with court cases remaining locked on the docket for 2013.

• Continued sales momentum has Toyota officials beaming in early March, with February sales spiking 41.8% above year-ago. But a massive 9.0 earthquake and tsunami strikes Northeastern Japan on March 11, hobbling OEMs and suppliers both inside and outside the damage zone.

Toyota, like most Japan-based auto makers, halts domestic production in the aftermath of the calamity. While its vehicle-assembly plants sustain no damage, securing key parts such as microchips and paint additives from suppliers hamstrung by the quake becomes an issue for the auto maker worldwide.

Toyota’s North American manufacturing plants work 3-day weeks, at 50% capacity, from late April to early June as a result of component shortages.

• Slim inventories of new vehicles hurt Toyota’s U.S. sales for much of the spring and summer.

The first evidence is a decline in deliveries of the Japan-built Prius hybrid in April, as production schedules for the car are slashed in half. In May, Toyota’s overall U.S. sales fall 27.9%, a drop not seen since February 2010 during the unintended-acceleration frenzy.

Chrysler surpasses Toyota in total light-vehicle deliveries in May for the first time since February 2006. Chrysler goes on to top Toyota again in June, August and September.

• At April’s New York auto show, Toyota ends speculation in announcing the rear-wheel-drive sports car it jointly developed with Subaru will retail in the U.S. as a Scion.

A concept version of the car, the Scion FR-S, revealed at the show reflects Subaru’s influence, with a naturally aspirated 2.0L boxer engine under the hood. Toyota’s D4-S port- and direct-injection system is used for the first time with a boxer engine, increasing horsepower and torque across the power band without sacrificing fuel economy, Scion says.

That car isn’t slated to go on sale until 2012, but another new Scion, the tiny, 1.3L, iQ microcar, debuts in the U.S. in the fall, giving the brand four models to sell for the first time.

Special Coverage

2011 Year In Review

• The hatchback Toyota Matrix model is on the bubble, a top company official tells WardsAuto in the spring. Matrix sales tallied 66,836 sales in 2002, its introductory year, but the car slumps badly in 2011, declining to a volume of just 7,104 units through October. The model gets a reprieve later in the year, as Toyota announces a ’12 Matrix is planned.

• By June, eight of Toyota’s 12 North America-built vehicles are back at full production after the slowdown caused by the earthquake in Japan.

The auto maker announces it will introduce 20 new or refreshed models by 2013. The list includes a next-generation Camry, the best-selling car in the U.S.; the Prius V wagon; Prius C compact; plug-in Prius; and a heavily refreshed Tacoma compact pickup truck.

• The electric version of the Toyota RAV4 cross/utility vehicle due in 2012 will be built in Woodstock, ON, Canada, WardsAuto learns in early August. Previously it was thought Tesla, which will provide the EV’s powertrain, would assemble the CUV at the Fremont, CA, plant it purchased from Toyota earlier. The upstart EV maker instead will ship the powertrain from a Palo Alto, CA, site for installation at Woodstock.

• Labor strife hits Toyota in Australia, where workers hold 48-hour strikes at various plants in protest of what workers say is a low-ball offer wage increases. Toyota proposes an 11% pay hike over 39 months; the union want a 12% raise over three years.

• Toyota begins retailing the new ’12 Camry a couple weeks ahead of plan in mid-September. Although the sheetmetal is all new, the seventh-generation model undergoes only a mild styling change and continues to come in 4-cyl., V-6 and hybrid configurations.

Thanks to greater use of lightweight steels, the midsize car loses 150-200 lbs. (68-91 kg), depending on engine and trim level. The weight loss helps both the 4-cyl. and V-6 models improve their estimated average fuel economy by 2 mpg (0.8 km/L).

• A new quality hub is opened in Malaysia to deliver vehicles to customers there more quickly. The 87.5-acre (35.4-ha) facility consists of a centralized vehicle stockyard, accessories center, test track, body and paint center, plus a production-parts warehouse.

• Lexus reveals it will drop the HS 250h hybrid-electric sedan once the current-generation car runs its course. The model, which went on sale in 2009, never lived up to the luxury brand’s high sales goals.

Initially, Toyota thought it could sell 30,000 HS cars per year, then reduced that target by 5,000 and again by another 5,000. Through October, only 2,383 HS models are delivered in the U.S, down 72.8% from year-earlier.

• Lexus is usurped in total brand sales midyear by Germany’s BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

• In November, Toyota launches output of its new-generation Avensis sedan at its Burnaston, U.K. factory. It features a reworked 2.0L, 4-cyl. turbodiesel with better fuel economy and carbon-dioxide emissions levels reduced to 119 g/kms.

• Exports of Princeton, IN-built Sienna minivans get under way to South Korea, marking the first time Toyota has exported a North American-made vehicle to that country. It also marks the first exports of the model other than to Canada and Mexico.

• Toyota’s new Blue Springs, MS, factory, its eighth North American vehicle-assembly plant, begins production of Corolla sedans for retail customers in October. Originally intended to open in 2010 and build the Prius hybrid, then the Highlander cross/utility vehicle, the facility was put on ice during the global economic crisis.

• Shortly after Toyota has its remaining four North American vehicle-assembly plants back to 100% capacity in September, the auto maker says it will cut overtime at the facilities in November, due to parts shortages caused by massive flooding in Thailand.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com