November turned out to be another awful month forMotor Sales U.S.A. Inc. as light-vehicle deliveries were down 33.9% from November 2007, and company executives expect the market to remain “suppressed” for the foreseeable future.
Div. car sales fell 29.6%, while light trucks slid 37.4%, compared with like-2007, according to Ward’s data. The Lexus luxury division fared no better as sales tumbled 39.9% for cars and 26.8% for light trucks, compared with year-ago.
Even the Scion brand, with its fleet of moderately priced small cars and utility vehicles, saw sales volumes nearly cut in half for the three models currently available.
All 31 nameplates across the three brands suffered declines, save for one: the all-new Sequoia fullsize SUV, which boosted volumes 51.9% over like-2007. Fortunes were reversed for the Sequoia’s platform mate, the Tundra pickup, with sales plunging 55.9% from year-ago.
Even Toyota’s hybrid-electric vehicles, which have pioneered a new segment with fuel-efficient cars and cross/utility vehicles, could not escape the spiral: Every Toyota and Lexus HEV lost sales, including the most moderately priced model, the Prius, down 48.2%.
“November was a tough month,” a somber Bob Carter, group vice president and Toyota Div. general manager, tells journalists on a conference call Tuesday.
One of the few encouraging signs in the month came in the final holiday weekend, when showroom traffic and volumes picked up.
“But I’m not suggesting that weekend creates a trend and is indicative of what we expect for the month of December,” Carter says. “We do continue to expect the overall industry to remain suppressed and in tough business conditions for the months ahead.”
Over the past five years, Toyota has witnessed an average 14% lift in sales from November to December. But Carter appears doubtful that trend can be sustained.
Carter declines to discuss 2009 in detail, saying Toyota is continuing to develop its forecast for release at the North American International Auto show in Detroit in January.
“November journeyed down the same path as we saw in the preceding months, resulting in an overall weak industry,” Carter says, noting auto sales are suffering from low consumer confidence, a tight credit market and declining demand for durable goods.
Consumer confidence bounced upward slightly after the presidential election in November and may have prevented the overall economy from plummeting further in November, Carter says. “But unfortunately that bounce didn’t quite reach the auto industry,” he says, citing unemployment that hit a 14-year high and persistent market uncertainty.
“So it’s no surprise that many consumers continue to wait on the sidelines,” he says, even though gasoline prices have fallen to a national average of $2 per gallon, about half the price just four months earlier.
Toyota sales dropped despite the auto maker’s stepped up incentive offerings, primarily a 0% financing spiff on 12 Toyota brand models throughout the month of November. That lure remains in place for December nationwide, while different markets of the U.S. will take a more regional approach with other incentives. For instance, New York will concentrate on attractive lease deals.
“We are going to continue to have aggressive incentives,” Carter says of the 30th anniversary of the “Toyotathon” promotion in December. “We are focused on doing whatever we can to offer consumers the right deals and right products to generate traffic for our dealers.”
Likewise, Lexus will offer incentives as part of its popular “December to Remember” marketing campaign. “It’s the biggest month of the year for Lexus,” says Brian Smith, vice president-Lexus sales and dealer development. “We’re providing dealers the tools to sell the inventories they have.”
Edmunds.com reports Toyota’s average incentive in November was $1,908, up from $1,576 in October and from $822 in November 2007. Meanwhile,Motor Co. offered the most generous spiffs, for an average $3,731 last month, while Motor Co. Ltd. was at the bottom of the pack with $1,130 per vehicle.
When asked if Toyota has been significantly ramping up North American production capacity just in time for the market to tank, Carter says the characterization is unfair.
“It’s fair to say it appears the market, year over year, will go from 16.2 million units last year to 13.2 million this year, and the Toyota Div. will be down about 12% year over year,” he says. “I don’t think that’s indicative of the future in the short term.”
Long-term, Carter sees light ahead. “One year or 18 months doesn’t make a long-term trend. We are very bullish on where the industry is going,” he says.
And as Washington holds additional auto-industry hearings this week, Toyota officials say they will watch closely in hopes the entire industry remains “strong and viable,” because Toyota shares many of its parts suppliers with the Detroit auto makers seeking federal bridge loans.
Toyota also will be watching for any “consumer stimulus” legislation that might come from Washington and will demand any such incentive for the purchase of a Detroit vehicle be available as well for buyers of transplant-produced models.