Toyota Sees Slower April U.S. Sales on Low Fleet Deliveries

LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg News) —

Toyota Motor Corp., which led first-quarter U.S. gains among large overseas carmakers, expects little growth for its namesake brand in April after trimming fleet sales, U.S. Group Vice President Bill Fay says.

Combined sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion cars and trucks grew 8.7 percent this year through March, compared with a year ago. Sales of Toyotas to car-rental companies and businesses were about 14 percent of the brand’s U.S. volume in March, according to data from Urban Science, an industry consulting firm in Detroit.

“We’re going to sell less fleet this year, as a division, than last year — probably 8,000 or 9,000 units less” in April, Fay said in an April 26 phone interview. “Our business will probably end up looking kind of flat, year over year, because of fleet coming down.”

Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, wants to sell more than 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S. this year, about a 6-percent increase and the most since 2008. That target and Toyota’s plan for Camry to remain the top-selling U.S. car for a 12th consecutive year are under pressure as the Toyota City, Japan- based company faces the best American cars in a generation.

Industrywide sales in April should expand about 5 percent from a year ago, Fay said. “The market will continue to be pretty good,” albeit slower than the industry’s 6.4 percent increase in the first quarter, he said.

Toyota’s focus is boosting more profitable sales to individuals, rather than fleets, for the remainder of the year, Fay said. Automakers are to report U.S. April sales on May 1. Toyota’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, Calif.

Camry sales shrank 4.3 percent in the first quarter amid tougher competition from Ford’s new Fusion sedan, Honda’s redesigned Accord and Nissan’s new Altima sedan.

“We’re still very optimistic to stay on our plan, which is to sell over 400,000 Camrys,” he said. “At the end of the day, people see the new Fusion and like it, and the Accord is doing well. Our goal, in spite of better competition, is for Camry to stay No. 1.”

While U.S. sales of Toyota’s Prius hybrids fell 8.4 percent in the quarter, “our goal is to continue to grow that family, grow that brand,” Fay said. Prius U.S. sales totaled 236,659 last year, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

To counter the first-quarter decline, a new marketing campaign for Prius starts in May, mainly with online promotions, and builds up with new television advertisements in June, he said.

“We have a plan for it, to give it some more attention as the year goes on,” Fay said, without elaborating.

Toyota’s American depositary receipts rose 0.9 percent to $116.54 at the close in New York. They have risen 25 percent this year, compared with a 12-percent increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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