Against a backdrop of sharply rising gasoline prices, fuel economy is top of mind amongshowroom visitors, and the auto maker says it is well-positioned to respond.
ThePrius hybrid sedan becomes a line of cars with the scheduled June launch of the larger Prius-v and early-2012 production of the Prius-c compact car, while Corolla C-car output gets a boost with the fourth-quarter startup of a new plant in Blue Springs, MS.
“I think our timing is impeccable,” says Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
Carter makes his remark as Toyota releases February sales that show a 41.8% jump from like-2010, according to Ward’s data.
The Camry fullsize sedan led the growth with 26,219 deliveries, up 68.7% from prior-year. But the Corolla and Prius ranked second and third, respectively.
Corolla’s tally closely followed the Camry’s with 24,785 deliveries, marking a 55.9% spike, compared with like-2010. And Prius sales soared 69.9% on 13,539 deliveries.
Even though the national average price of regular-grade gasoline has risen $0.56 in the last month to $3.38, according to the American Automobile Assn., Carter says it’s too early to declare a shift in consumer buying patterns. Toyota sees $3.50 as the “tipping point.”
But, he adds, fuel economy tops the list of consumer concerns “without a doubt.”
Should demand for vehicles such as the Corolla increase sharply before the new plant opens, Toyota has wiggle room to increase production at its plant in Woodstock, ON, Canada, where Corollas are assembled.
Overall sales results for Toyota’s core brand and its Scion entry-level marque were in positive territory. But Lexus-brand car sales slipped 7%.
Through 2010, Toyota’s total light-vehicle sales are tracking 29.6% ahead of like-2010.
Meanwhile, the auto maker finds vindication in results of an investigation linking Toyota vehicles to reports of sudden uintended acceleration. The probe, led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. with assistance from the National Aeronautics and Space Admin., “confirmed what Toyota’s been saying all along,” Carter says.
There was no evidence of electronic malfunction in the reported cases, contrary to claims made by consumer advocates and trial lawyers.
But the auto maker remains a source of scrutiny as California-based Exponent, an independent engineering firm, and an advisory panel led by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, continue to monitor Toyota separately.
Toyota spokesman Mike Michaels says the engineering firm is expected to issue a report in a few months, but the advisory panel has given no indication when it might wrap up its activities.
“Their timetable is their own,” Michaels says. “They are completely independent.”