2010 Lexus ES 350Enlarge Photo
Turns out, the Toyota-buying frenzy made up for the previous two battered months (during the recalls and hearings), but things ever since then have not settled back to where they were before then for the automaker.
Looking in a cursory sense at the Toyota sales numbers and transaction prices from the past year—courtesy of the pricing intelligence firm TrueCar—it would be possible to say that Toyota wasn't so seriously affected by the recalls. Toyota as a brand sold about 150,000 cars last July, in a total market 997,000. This July it sold nearly 146,000 vehicles, in a total market of 1.05 million. Looking at the Corolla, sales are down from about 29,600 last July to about 27,300 this July. Overall transaction-price discount from MSRP changed from 9.2 percent to 9.9 percent, and days in inventory went from 45 to 63. Toyota RAV4 models remained relatively even, compared to last year, while actually seeing lower discounts; and even sales of the mid-size Camry, soon to be redesigned, have been steady.
However, with a closer look, again thanks to TrueCar, the signs are a little less optimistic; it's clear Toyota's fine-tuned supply-and-demand system remains a bit disrupted, and it's still piling more incentives on each sale than it had before. Since last year, the number of days in inventory (how long vehicles sit on lots, essentially) has risen from the 20-to-30-day range up to 40 to 50 days—even higher in some cases. Average incentive spending per unit has risen from less than $2,000 per vehicle some months last year to more than $3,000 per vehicle for much of this year.
No frugal-shopper feeding frenzy
That said, Toyota still remains one of the automakers with the least incentive spending per vehicle, according to Toprak, and the company has been reluctant to step up the discounts. "They're not selling like drunken sailors, as that is the trap that the Big Three have fallen into in the past," said Toprak, referring to how Chrysler has at times over the past couple of years, kept some of its trucks like the Jeep Wrangler and Dodge Ram moving only with nearly 30-percent discounts. This has helped minimize the hit to its residual values and preserve values on the used-car market—albeit at the cost of some new-car sales.
You might think that Toyota has been doing very well with its incentives, as average transaction prices have actually been rising for some models. Toprak says that even that's a bit misleading, as last summer under Cash for Clunkers (and into the fall, when inventories were restocked), shoppers had overwhelmingly gone for the cheapest models possible. So looking into this past winter and spring, there was a natural rise in transaction price as other types of shoppers who were "comfortable with the economy"—including Toyota loyalists taking advantage of the deals—returned to the showroom.