Japanese carmaker pins hopes on hybrid vehicles
Toyota Motor Corp. is outperforming General Motors in global sales again, bouncing back from a massive recall incident and natural disasters in its home country.
The Japanese automaker said it sold 4.97 million vehicles globally in the first half of the year, while the sales of GM stood at 4.67 million units.
While Toyota’s Korean unit is also set to wage uphill sales battles with German firms such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, market insiders are watching to see if Toyota Motor Korea will overcome the huge ongoing operating losses.
Toyota Korea said the company is left with a 32.9 billion won ($28.6 million) operating loss after reaping 391.4 billion won in sales between March 2011 and March 2012. The loss increased by about 253 percent from the previous year.
The leading Japanese carmaker saw sales drop by about 8 percent, whereas the entire Korean imported car market grew by about 21 percent in the first half of the fiscal year.
Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., speaks during a line-off ceremony for the company’s Lexus ES series sedans on July 6. (Bloomberg)
“The imported car market was not so big in 2007, when Lexus sold the most. We sold 7,520 cars throughout the year,” a Toyota Korea official said on condition of anonymity.
He said the Lexus models currently being sold in Korea were mostly introduced back then. “These models are too old and, besides, we went through a lot last year after all.”
But recently, under Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda’s resolute toward sales growth in Korea, Toyota Korea added a new sports sedan, the new GS, to the Lexus lineup on March 12, to make up in second-half sales.
The company also plans to launch the gasoline-powered ES350 and hybrid ES300h as soon as September.
Followed by its bestselling model Camry 2012 in the first half, the company aims to promote the Lexus brand in the second half as its major product.
CEO Akio Toyoda has vowed to become the champion of sales among foreign automakers in Korea by 2014, promising tough competition with German players.
During his visit to Seoul a year ago, Toyoda said, “Though we may not able to restore our brand image all at once, we will make efforts to top the list of Korea’s import car market within three years.”
The CEO’s statement came during his meeting with Korean dealers of Toyota and Lexus vehicles in Seoul. His visit was apparently designed to placate and encourage dealerships, according to Toyota executives.
He expressed strong resolve to restore the carmaker’s image, undermined by the recall incident, and swiftly normalize production capacity, which was damaged by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March.
Seven or eight years ago, Lexus ― a premium auto brand under the wing of Toyota Motor ― closely vied for the No. 1 spot in local sales against BMW.
But Lexus slid to eighth in the 2010 sales ranking for imported vehicles after posting fifth in 2009, while German carmakers BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Audi made up the top four.
Toyota, a lower priced brand than Lexus, stayed at fifth in 2010.
Furthermore, in the wake of the earthquake, Lexus and Toyota saw their sales in Korea plunge 51 and 41 percent respectively in April from a year before.
His “first” visit to Korea since taking office in 2009 also drew interest amid the situation under which Hyundai Motor and its affiliate Kia Motors are expanding their presence in global markets.
Toyota is pinning hopes on hybrid vehicles while Korean consumers prefer the diesel lineups of German automakers.
By Kim Yon-se (email@example.com