As domestics leave sedans, Toyota ready to boost share

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As the car and light-truck mix in consumer preferences starts to stabilize, Toyota is once again looking to capitalize in segments where the Detroit 3 have pulled up stakes — just as the giant Japanese automaker did a decade ago with midsize pickups.

Toyota has continued to invest in its popular lineup of sedans as first FCA US, then General Motors and Ford Motor Co. have mostly abandoned sedans and coupes in North America to offer more crossovers and other light trucks. Most recently, Toyota redesigned its compact Corolla sedan after completing a redesign of its top-selling Camry midsize sedan, putting both onto its global Toyota Next Generation Architecture.

Through the first nine months of the year, cars accounted for 28 percent of all new-vehicle purchases in the U.S., down from the 31 percent in 2018 and 36 percent in 2017, according to the Automotive News Data Center. As recently as 2013, the market’s car and light-truck sales were evenly split.

“The pace of that swapping has continued to slow down,” said Jack Hollis, general manager of Toyota Division at Toyota Motor North America. “I think it still has a little bit further to go; I don’t think it’s bottomed out yet.”

Hollis said he thinks the car share of the U.S. market might eventually find a floor at around 25 percent, especially given the list of upcoming products from various automakers, which is rich with new crossover and even some pickup entries. But even at that diminished size, Toyota remains positioned to capitalize because it has chosen to stay in the segment.

“With a lot of our competitors deciding to abandon car buyers, there’s obviously going to be less entries [in car segments], which I think is great,” Hollis said. “I’m going to continue to see us take as much of that share as we can. We’re happy with that.”

Through September, the Camry remained the best-selling midsize car in the U.S., with a 24 percent segment share, while the Corolla was second among compact cars with 21 percent of its segment. The Toyota Avalon was fifth among large cars, with an 11 percent market share.

The stay-put strategy is one that Toyota successfully exploited previously. More than a decade ago, the Detroit 3 abandoned the midsize pickup segment they collectively dominated in favor of more lucrative full-size pickups, leaving Japanese automakers to fill the void. When GM, Ford and FCA tried to return to the segment, they found how difficult it can be to dislodge Toyota from the commanding market share the Detroit 3 had essentially gifted to the Tacoma.

Through September, Toyota has sold 187,622 Tacomas in the U.S., giving the Toyota entry a 40 percent share among midsize pickups, and making the Tacoma the fourth-best selling pickup of any size in the nation — ahead of the GMC Sierra.

Hollis said that, even in their reduced state, sedans and coupes remain a significant portion of the U.S. market — perhaps 4.5 to 5 million sales out of a 17 million market — and continue to command even greater demand among lucrative certified used-vehicle buyers.

“When you look at the pre-owned business and at certified … you see that the mix is not 70/30 light truck to car. You’re still seeing a much more normalized … car-to-truck ratio,” Hollis said.

That means there are “a lot of buyers out there still looking for those sedans.”

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