Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp looks set to embarrass American automakers on their home turf by ending the year as the U.S. market’s top-selling brand for 2021.
Toyota had previously reported it moved 688,813 vehicles in the United States from April to June, outperforming General Motors and setting the stage for the rest of the year. At the time, the domestic manufacturer claimed its numbers were down due to the global semiconductor shortage that continues to disproportionally impact American automakers. While there are a few sound logistical reasons for that, the chip deficit also becomes a convenient excuse for brands that cannot seem to get their general supply chains under control. No matter how you slice it, GM looks to have screwed up managing inventory and Toyota is picking up the slack.
Granted, all brands have yet to announce their full-year sales assessment. But Toyota already had a noteworthy lead on GM going into October and practically every outlet tracking the industry had already called it for the company going into the holiday break. In the first nine months of 2021, Toyota sold 1.86 million vehicles in the United States to GM’s 1.78 million. For the sake of comparison, the Detroit-based manufacturer managed to keep a healthy distance in 2020 by selling 2.55 million units within America to Big T’s 2.11 million — though the latter sum was still good enough for second place.
Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) said it moved 2,332,262 vehicles through all of 2021, however, the relevant reports focused primarily on its “electrified powered vehicle” (EVP) sales so it could virtue signal over how many more electrified products were sold during a particularly rough year. Investors will undoubtedly be happy because electric good, gas bad. But Toyota’s EVPs encompass everything from your standard hybrid to a fully electric plug-in car or hydrogen-powered bauble. Regardless, you’re probably not supposed to think about it as hard as I clearly do.
“Despite a second consecutive year of challenges, TMNA focused on delivering an exceptional customer experience, and we remain optimistic as our electrification strategy further evolves,” said Jack Hollis, senior vice president, Automotive Operations Group, TMNA. “Thanks to our phenomenal dealers and world-class purchasing and manufacturing teams, our inventory continues to improve and we’re preparing to introduce 21 all-new, refreshed or special edition vehicles in 2022.”
Dealerships, which have made an absolute killing as vehicle pricing continues to break records, were likewise said to be embracing new ways of doing business while revamping physical locations to cater to customers and new product. The automaker said digital retail sales of new vehicles through its SmartPath and Monogram platforms surged past 50,000 at nearly 140 dealers, adding that “more than 300 dealers will go live on both platforms by middle of 2022.”
Though, if you incorporate Lexus-branded sites, Toyota technically has around 1,500 storefronts dotted across North America. We also wouldn’t call General Motors a total loser in this until we’ve seen how much money everyone has made.
Despite Toyota taking the volumetric victory, GM has said that it’s been focusing on maximizing profitability while it continues to struggle with production setbacks. Domestic automakers tend to sell larger vehicles (specifically trucks and SUVs) with broader margins. Right now, they’re all preoccupied with finding ways to leverage that without losing more customers than absolutely necessary. Assuming domestic production soon returns to something approaching normal and pricing remains high, GM may be feeling a lot better about how 2021 went by the end of 2022. The company seems more than willing to suggest this speculative scenario, too. But I would imagine that’s because it puts a more positive spin on a lackluster 12-month period. It’s the same reason Ford harps on pickup/brand sales every single year, regardless of how well it performs against GM. Most companies have at least one feather in their cap and they’re happy to display it for as long as they can manage.
It wasn’t all that long ago when General Motors CEO Mary Barra was championing the company’s decision to pull out of Europe and Russia to help enhance profitability. This was true in a technical sense and perhaps even wise since the brunt of GM’s foreign investments is currently focused on China. But it still represents the automaker retreating from two rather large markets that Toyota continues to occupy, not that things are totally perfect.
Toyota actually lost with Lexus in December. The luxury arm is going through some changes as the company decides how best to implement electrification and saw total volume decline by 37 percent against the same month in 2020. Thankfully, Lexus’ year-over-year growth for 2021 matched Toyota’s — giving a combined average growth of 10.4 percent.
Then again, December looks to have been a particularly bad month for the industry in general. Early reports suggest that new vehicle sales were down by around 30 percent across the board vs the same time in 2020. Framed that way, Toyota actually did pretty well with Lexus.
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