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Lease returns, sedans, fleet buoy Toyota as others sink in Nov.

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Bob Carter, head of sales for the Japanese automaker, said he went into the final weekend in November believing the industry was experiencing the same strong retail month that Toyota was — but it wasn’t.

“Our business last week coming out of Thanksgiving was so robust, and we were doing so well in retail, that I assumed that it was translating across the industry,” Carter said.

Carter said Toyota and Lexus had their highest combined market share in November since 2010, and he estimated that the automaker had its strongest retail share in any month since 2014. Part of that was driven by 46,000 off-lease vehicles returned in November and about 26,000 fleet sales, keeping the company within its 8 to 9 percent historic fleet average.

Another big factor has been Toyota’s ability to get its manufacturing plants running back at near capacity. Carter said 77 percent of Toyota’s sales last month were 2021 models, while the majority of retail sales elsewhere were 2020 models.

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The Camry sedan also got a boost in its bid to once again finish the year as the industry’s top-selling sedan, posting a 15 percent sales gain in November while sales of its main rival, the Honda Civic, dropped 27 percent.

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Toyota’s result came in a month in which the loss of those selling days weighed heavily on the results of most of the other automakers that still post sales monthly.

Ford Motor Co., which has returned to public monthly sales reporting after nearly two years, was down 21 percent as F-150 inventories remained tight. American Honda had an even tougher month, down 23 percent compared with a year earlier, while both Mazda and Subaru dropped 11 percent. Hyundai-Kia fell 8.2 percent, as Kia’s 5.2 percent decline buoyed a steeper 11 percent fall by Hyundai Motor America, which includes the Genesis luxury brand.

Volvo was the only automaker reporting sales in November to finish in the black, posting a 20 percent increase, its sixth consecutive month of year-over-year gains. Despite COVID-19, Volvo’s year-to-date sales were up 11 vehicles, at 95,885, led by gains from the XC40 and XC60 crossovers. Other automakers report results quarterly.

Just as the calendar occasionally taketh away, so too does it giveth — as those three missing selling days slip into December, giving an artificial bump as automakers scramble to make up the sales lost to COVID-19 in the spring.

But a resurgent virus and signs of another economic slowdown mean it might not be that easy, said Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist with Cox Automotive.

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