Working at his desk on March 15 and going over dire sales numbers was a scary day at the office, recalls Andrew Gilleland, group vice president and general manager of Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus in the U.S.
“It was frightening,” he says, referring to the COVID-19-related plunge in vehicle deliveries that occurred industry-wide last spring. “Anyone who would say otherwise would be blasé.”
Bob Carter, Toyota Motor North America’s executive vice president-sales, says of the sudden sales crisis: “There were a lot of sleepless nights. But we don’t panic.”
So, the automaker, its dealers and suppliers rowed together to get through troubled waters, say executives at a year-end sales report media call. “It’s inspiring how we worked together,” says Gilleland.
It apparently worked.
“We closed out 2020 really strong,” says Jack Hollis, TMNA’s senior vice president-automotive operations (picture below taken by Tom Murphy).
The company reports December sales of 249,601 vehicles, an increase of 20.4% on a volume basis and 7.5% on a daily selling rate basis compared with December 2019.
For calendar year 2020, TMNA reports sales of 2,112,941 vehicles, a decrease of 11.3% on a volume basis and an 11.9% DSR decrease.
Toyota division posted December sales of 211,378 vehicles, up 22.9% on a volume basis and up 9.7% on DSR. For the year, Toyota reported sales of 1,837,900 vehicles, down 11.9% on volume and 12.4% on DSR.
Lexus posted December sales of 38,223 vehicles, up 8.2% on volume and down 3.4% on DSR. For the year, Lexus reported sales of 275,041 vehicles, down 7.7% on volume and 8.3% on DSR.
“It’s been a great close to a tough year,” says David Christ, group vice president and general manager at Toyota’s U.S. division.
Still, Gilleland says, “We’d like to forget 2020.”
For 2021, “we see a lot of opportunities and a 16 million SAAR (seasonally adjusted annual rate),” Hollis says. “There are still so many COVID issues affecting business, but I like to talk about the tailwinds.”
To him, those positives include the development of coronavirus vaccines, low interest rates, new product and dealer innovations such as advancements in digital retailing.
Carter foresees vehicle inventories remaining tight through this spring. “Supply will be the name of the game. The industry will be supply-challenged for the next four or five months. Then we will see it normalize.”
The sales call allows the Japanese automaker’s U.S. unit to exercise some bragging rights, including:
- Holding the No.1 retail brand spot in the nation for the 9th consecutive year.
- The Toyota Camry reigning as the best-selling passenger car for the 19th consecutive year.
- The Toyota RAV4 staying as the best-selling CUV for fourth straight year.
- The Toyota Tacoma remaining the best-selling midsize pickup truck for 16th consecutive year.
The company also touts its success in selling hybrid-electric vehicles, vowing that more are on the way. “It’s hybrid, hybrid and more hybrid,” Hollis says.
Toyota and Lexus sold more than 337,000 models with hybrid propulsion systems last year. That’s 16% of sales compared with 9% two years ago. By 2025, every nameplate in the U.S. lineup with offer a hybrid or battery-electric version, Hollis adds.
Steve Finlay is a retired WardsAuto senior editor.