Toyota Closes Out Flat 2017 With December Decline

For the first time in 28 years the Camry wasn’t Toyota’s best-selling model, although it had a record December.

January 3, 2018

5 Min Read
Toyota sold 407594 RAV4s in the US last year
Toyota sold 407,594 RAV4s in the U.S. last year.

Toyota closes out a flat 2017 with 222,985 vehicles sold in December in the U.S., a 4.8% daily-selling-rate decline from December 2016.

There were 26 selling days in December 2017 and 27 in December 2016.

Both Toyota and Lexus brands fell last month on a DSR basis, with the former down 3.6% and the latter 10.6%.

WardsAuto still calculates Scion sales and that defunct brand sold six vehicles last month, a 93.9% drop from the 102 sold in December 2016.

Most Toyota-brand models lost momentum last month compared with year-ago, including the soon-to-be-replaced Avalon large sedan (-50.1%), the Corolla compact car and hatch (-34.5%) and the subcompact Yaris (-72.3%).

Sales of the Prius liftback/V wagon/Prime plug-in fell 18.0%, and the compact Prius C declined 39.7%, capping months of losses for the hybrids.

Sales in the 3-Prius lineup fell 17.2% in 2017, tallying 96,247, a steep falloff considering the Prius liftback alone used to sell more than 100,000 units annually.

Uncharacteristically down in December was the Highlander midsize CUV, falling 14.1% on a DSR basis. However, Highlander sales for the year rose 12.7% to 215,775.

The Highlander couldn’t match the strength of the RAV4 CUV, however, which took over sales leadership in May from Toyota’s Camry, the brand's top-seller from 1989 to 2016, and never let go.

While RAV4 sales fell 9.2% in December, it closed out the year comfortably above the 400,000-unit mark Toyota targeted in 2017, with 407,594 sales (50,559 the hybrid variant). That’s a 15.7% increase from 352,154 RAV4s sold in 2016 and likely to make it the No.1-selling utility vehicle in the U.S. for 2017.

Speaking to the RAV4’s December dip, Jack Hollis, group vice president-Toyota Div. for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., tells media on a conference call that the automaker has been selling RAV4s as fast as it can build them.

“We are truly selling at a greater pace each month,” he says, noting inventory of the RAV4 was light heading into last month.

The Camry, thanks to an all-new ’18 model, had a whopper of month selling 43,331 units in December, a 34.7% DSR spike. The Camry’s 2017 total was 387,081, roughly 1,000 units below its 2016 tally but good enough to keep it as the No.1-selling midsize car in the U.S. on an annual basis.

Toyota’s compact Tacoma pickup had a 10.9% DSR increase in December and rose 3.4% for the year. Its 198,124 2017 volume makes it the No.1-selling compact in WardsAuto’s Small Pickup group.

Lexus’ 35,461 December sales were off roughly 6,000 units from year-ago.

Every model in the luxury brand’s lineup was down from December 2016, save for the NX compact CUV (4.3%) and new Lexus LC sports car, which tallied 290 units in the month, bringing its 2017 total to 2,487.

Taking the biggest plunge in December was the discontinued CT 200h hybrid hatchback, down 99.0% on a DSR basis. Of current models the LS, soon to be replaced with a new generation, fell 47.8%.

The RX midsize CUV comfortably remained Lexus’ best-selling U.S. model for the month and the year, with 13,951 deliveries in December and 108,307 in 2017. The annual volume dipped 1.0% from 2016.

Through December, Toyota sold 2.435 million vehicles in the U.S., a 0.6% decline. The Toyota brand delivered 2.129 million units and Lexus sold 305,135 units.

Toyota underperformed the Ford brand on annual volume, but usurped Chevrolet to become the second-best-selling new-car brand in the U.S. in 2017. In 2016, Chevy was second and Toyota third in total sales.

Lexus’ place in the luxury hierarchy is still to be determined. Mercedes-Benz is certain to remain on top given its 332,990 sales through November, but only a couple thousand units separated BMW and Lexus for second place in that period.

Toyota ended December with roughly 300,000 vehicles in inventory in the U.S., a 47-day supply, while Lexus had 27,000 units, or a 23-day supply, down from a 30-day supply to start the month, says Jeff Bracken, Lexus U.S. group vice president.

Given the industry softening in 2017, Hollis still is optimistic about new-vehicle sales in the year ahead. However, he sees the seasonally adjusted annual rate dipping into the upper 16-million-unit range, possibly hitting 17 million.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s chief Japanese rivals Honda and Nissan reported mixed sales results for the year and the month.

Both Honda and Nissan claim best-ever annual results in the U.S. with Honda touting 1.641 million units sold and Nissan reporting 1.593 million vehicle sales.

However, Honda’s December sales fell 3.4% on a DSR basis, it says, while Nissan says it lost 9.5% on a volume (non-adjusted) basis.

Despite an all-new model in the market, Accord sales fell 32.2% in December, Honda says, and were down 6.5% for the year, with 322,655 deliveries not enough to budge the Camry from the top-midsize-car slot.

Sales of the CR-V, formerly the best-selling utility vehicle in the U.S. until the RAV4 usurped it earlier in 2017, rose 1.7% in December and 5.8% in 2017.

The CR-V’s 377,895 units edged out the Civic’s 377,286 to make the CUV Honda’s best-selling model of 2017. Honda says the CR-V’s annual volume was a record.

Thanks to the Camry’s December rally, the Civic was the No.2 best-selling car in the U.S. in 2017, not the No.1 model as many had expected.

All three Japanese automakers report record light-truck sales in 2017, as Americans’ willingness to trade cars for crossovers seems unstoppable.

As for whether the light-vehicle industry's current two-third/one-third mix of light trucks and cars will ameliorate any time soon, Hollis says, “We believe it’s going to stabilize about right here,” mentioning the current strong performance of the Camry and forthcoming redesigns of the Avalon as well as the Corolla as buoying car sales.

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