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Toyota: Sales Up in December, Down for 2009

TORRANCE, Calif. – Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc., reported December sales results of 187,860 units, an increase of 22.9 percent over the same period last year, on a daily selling rate (DSR) basis.

On a raw volume basis, unadjusted for 28 selling days in December 2009, compared to 26 selling days in December 2008, TMS sales were up 32.3 percent for the month, compared to the same period last year.

For the year, TMS reported annual sales of 1,770,149 vehicles, a decrease of 20.2 percent from the same period in 2008, on a DSR basis. With 308 selling days in 2008 and 2009, annual sales were also down 20.2 percent on an unadjusted raw volume basis.

Toyota Division recorded year-end sales of 1,554,174 vehicles, down 20.6 percent from the prior year. Lexus reported sales of 215,975 units in 2009, down 17 percent from 2008. Scion Division reported sales of 57,961 units for the year.

“Emerging from the rollercoaster of 2009, the industry has gained positive momentum for a gradual recovery,” said Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. “Despite a tough market, TMS performed solidly, reaching its goal to grow market share. With Toyota continuing as the best-selling overall brand and Lexus as the best-selling luxury brand in America, we’re looking forward to a bright 2010.”

Toyota Division

Toyota Division reported December sales of 159,295 units, up 24.7 percent over December 2008. Toyota Division passenger cars recorded December sales of 98,122 units, up 34.6 percent over the year-ago month, with year-end sales of 996,431 units, down 17.4 percent from last year.

For the year, passenger car sales were led by Camry and Camry Hybrid, which posted combined annual sales of 356,824 units. Corolla recorded 2009 sales of 296,874 units. The Prius mid-size gas-electric hybrid posted year-end sales of 139,682 units. Venza reported sales of 54,410 units for the year.

Toyota Division light trucks reported December sales of 61,173 units, up 11.7 percent over December 2008, with year-end sales of 557,743 units, down 25.7 percent from 2008.

For the year, light truck sales were led by the RAV4 compact SUV with year-end sales of 149,088 units, up 8.8 percent over the same period last year. Highlander and Highlander Hybrid posted combined annual sales of 83,118 units. The Tundra full-size pickup recorded year-end sales of 79,385 units. The Tacoma mid-size pickup reported sales of 111,824 units for 2009. Sienna recorded year-end sales of 84,064 units.

Scion reported December sales of 3,771 units, with year-end sales totaling 57,961 units. The Scion xB urban utility vehicle recorded year-end sales of 25,461 units. The tC sports coupe reported annual sales of 17,998 units. The xD posted sales of 14,499 units for the year.

Lexus Division

Lexus reported December sales of 28,565 units, up 13.5 percent over the year-ago month. Lexus passenger cars reported December sales of 15,862 units, up 27.6 percent over December 2008, with year-end sales of 112,745 units, down 25.6 percent from 2008.

For the year, Lexus passenger car sales were led by the ES entry luxury sedan with year-end sales of 48,485 units. The IS entry luxury sport sedan recorded combined annual sales of 38,077 units. The HS entry luxury hybrid sedan recorded sales of 6,699 units for the year.

Lexus Division light trucks reported December sales of 12,703 units, down 0.2 percent from the year-ago month, and year-end sales of 103,230 units, down 4.9 percent from last year. Lexus sales were led by the RX luxury utility vehicle in 2009, which posted combined year-end sales of 93,379 units, up 10.9 percent over the prior year. The RX 450h hybrid luxury utility vehicle reported sales of 14,464 units for the year.

TMS Hybrids

In December, TMS posted sales of 17,964 hybrid vehicles, up 36.7 percent over December 2008. TMS calendar-year-to-date hybrid sales totaled 195,545 units. Toyota Division posted December sales of 14,317 hybrids and year-end sales of 173,655 units. Lexus Division posted sales of 3,647 hybrids for the month and 21,890 units for the year.

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Four Automakers Report Positive December Sales

Initial results for December auto sales indicate the industry may be headed toward recovery, as Chrysler, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru all reported month-to-month increases in December.

On a year-over-year basis, Chrysler, Ford and Mercedes-Benz all experienced declines in volume, while Subaru reported a record-breaking year with a 15 percent increase in sales.

The uptick in December sales falls in line with forecasts made by analysts at J.D. Power and Associates and Edmunds.com.

Analysts at J.D. Power and Associates forecasted that December’s new-vehicle retail sales would hit 839,600 units, which represent a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 9.1 million units.

Analysts at Edmunds.com forecasted December total sales to hit 1.01 million units, a 13.3 increase from the year-ago period. They also predicted that December’s seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) would be 11.11 million, up from 10.89 million in November 2009.

“We could potentially reach a December SAAR of 11.7 million units given the current site traffic trend,” noted Edmunds.com Senior Analyst Jessica Caldwell. “Our Website activity is through the roof, which makes sense as there are so many bargain-hunters scrambling to get year-end deals and cash in on the sales tax deduction opportunity that expires on December 31.”

While Web traffic was up across the board for manufacturers, Edmunds.com said some brands experienced better than average interest in the last four days of the year compared with the first three weeks of December. Here are some examples:

  • BMW – Increase of nearly 70 percent; may be due to heavily publicized “BMW Joy Sales Event.”
  • Chevrolet – Increase of nearly 85 percent; may be due to “Red Tag” event that includes “Holiday Cash.”
  • Ford – Increase of nearly 100 percent; may be due to “Ford Year-End Sales Event.”
  • Honda – Increase of nearly 100 percent; may be due to increased advertising of “Happy Honda Days.”
  • Pontiac – Over ten times as much activity; may be due to media hype about close-out deals.
  • Saturn – Nearly ten times as much activity; may be due to media hype about close-out deals.

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Improving Lending Market Could Help Boost U.S. Auto Sales

Car buyers are hearing the words “Your loan is approved” more often these days, spurred by a trillion-dollar government program that provides guarantees when those loans are sold to investors. That is helping banks, credit unions and auto finance companies make auto loans at a quickening pace. And consumers are paying less to borrow. Interest rates have been at record lows since last December.

It’s bit of good news for the auto industry in the United States, where 2009 sales are expected to hit a 30-year low of around 10 million when figures are announced Tuesday, reported The Associated Press. Partly because of loosening credit, industry analysts expect more than 1 million cars and light trucks to be sold in December, the best monthly performance since Cash for Clunkers in August.

Financial firms wrote 5.5 percent more car loans in the third quarter compared with the prior three months, Experian Automotive says. Fourth-quarter figures aren’t yet available, but Jesse Toprak, vice president of the auto pricing tracker TrueCar Inc., says December saw an uptick in auto loan approvals for consumers with average or above-average credit as auto finance companies tried to clear out inventory.

Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Auto Dealers Association, said used-car prices also have stabilized due to limited supply, making used-car loans more attractive to banks.

Still, Toprak said it could take another year or even longer for financial firms to trust consumers enough to return to normal levels for auto lending. It’s also far from the freewheeling days of the credit boom. Third-quarter auto lending was down 30 percent from the same period in 2006, a year when U.S. car and light truck sales reached 16.5 million.

In the meantime, only those with good credit need apply.

A top-tier borrower — someone with a credit score between 720 and 850 — can get a 36-month auto loan with an average monthly rate of 5.74 percent, down from 6.65 percent a year ago, according to Informa Research Services, a financial research firm headquartered in Calabasas, Calif. On a $20,000 car loan, that’s a savings of nearly $300 over three years.

But the cost of borrowing has risen for people in the bottom tier. A person with a score of 500 to 589 has seen the average rate climb to 18.56 percent from 16.47 percent a year ago. That translates to an extra $751.68 over 3 years. Banks are still nervous about loaning money to risky borrowers given high rates of unemployment, foreclosures and late payments since the financial crisis began.

“We used to have a subprime auto lending industry,” says Dan Alpert, managing partner at Westwood Capital, an investment bank involved in the securitization business. “We don’t have that anymore.”

Although demand for autos has picked up from depths seen at the start of 2009, the lending machine really got moving thanks in large part to grease from the government’s TALF — or Term Asset Backed Loan Facility — program. The program began last March and allows investors to borrow money from the Federal Reserve to buy the loans off lenders’ books. This raises money and makes room for financial firms to write more loans.

There is evidence it’s working. Financial institutions raised more than $19 billion by selling securities made of bundled auto loans in the third quarter last year. That’s up nearly 60 percent from the second quarter and more than sixfold from the same period in 2008, according to the Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association.

TALF is scheduled to end in March 2010. Whether the market for securitized loans can stand on its own at that point depends on the state of the economy, lending experts say.

The concerns are similar to those in the housing market, where tax credits for first-time home buyers have helped prop up demand. But those credits expire April 30. And loan activity, in general, has been weak. According to the Federal Reserve, loans by the nation’s 8,000 banks have fallen 8 percent to $6.7 trillion in the past year, and some analysts expect them to keep falling at least through next year.

But there are good signs. The proportion of loans — auto and other — requiring TALF support has declined steadily over the past several months and should continue to fall early this year as the market for securitized loans continues to improve, says Tom Deutsch, deputy executive director of the American Securitization Forum, an industry group that represents those who turn debt into bonds.

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J.D. Power: December Total Sales to Increase 7%

December new-vehicle retail sales are expected to increase substantially compared with one year ago, indicating the continuation of the industry’s recovery, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

December new-vehicle retail sales are expected to come in at 839,600 units, which represent a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 9.1 million units. Although fleet sales have been rebounding from historic lows earlier this year, December’s fleet level is projected to be down 10 percent from one year ago. As a result, total sales for December are projected to come in at 1,029,600 units, up 7 percent from December 2008.

“The market is continuing to improve, with the relative strength of December sales supporting a year-end rally,” said Gary Dilts, senior vice president of global automotive operations at J.D. Power and Associates. “The December selling rate is tracking at 11.2 million units—up nearly 1 million units from one year ago—which sets up 2010 for further recovery.”

On the heels of the worst economic environment since the Great Depression, the automotive market has recovered from its low point in March 2009, and has been outperforming expectations since October. Given the more robust pace and a strong December close, 2009 is projected to come in higher than previously expected, with total sales at 10.4 million units and retail sales at 8.7 million units.

“While the industry hasn’t yet received a clean bill of health, fixed costs have been trimmed at all levels, allowing for profitability—even at a reduced selling rate,” said Jeff Schuster, executive director of global forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. “The industry has an opportunity in 2010 to build on a series of small victories—such as improved pricing and appropriate inventory levels—to drive a stronger recovery.”

J.D. Power and Associates is maintaining its 2010 forecast at 11.5 million units for total sales and 9.5 million units for retail sales.

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Auto Sales in Rural Markets Boost China to No. 1

As growing numbers of Chinese shop for their first vehicles, or trade up for newer models, sales in China’s immense hinterland are booming, encouraged by tax cuts, government subsidies and growing consumer spending power, reported The Associated Press.

In regions striving to catch up with relatively well-off coastal cities, families and small businesses are gladly swapping scooters and bicycles for the comfort and convenience of the automobile.

The supercharged growth has propelled China ahead of the United States as the world’s biggest auto market and provided a lifeline for automakers like General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp. as sales crashed in other markets.

The government’s role in spurring the market has been crucial, but China’s still low level of car ownership points to the potential for decades of strong growth even as some analysts warn the future holds tougher competition and dwindling profits.

To counter a slowdown late last year as the global financial crisis unfolded, the government halved taxes on purchases of small autos and is spending 5 billion yuan (about $730 million) on subsidies for purchases of light trucks and minivans in the countryside, where most of China’s 1.3 billion people live.

Earlier this month, the purchase tax was raised to 7.5 percent, though subsidies also increased.

Happy with the results from this year’s rescue package for the industry, Beijing is leery of risking a relapse, analysts say.

“The message sent by the government is that they will not let the auto industry weaken, especially not in 2010,” said Jia Xinguang, chief analyst at China National Automotive Industry Consulting & Developing Corp., an investment management company.

Enticed by the potentially huge market, automakers have poured billions of dollars into ventures here in the past two decades. Total sales this year forecast to shoot past 13 million units, up a third from last year’s 9.8 million.

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Fitch: Moderate Recovery Expected for U.S. Auto Industry in 2010

NEW YORK – Vehicle sales are forecasted to reach 11.1 million units in 2010, which is a 7.8% increase from the estimated 10.3 million units projected to be sold in 2009, according to Fitch Ratings.

Fitch also expects U.S. medium- and heavy-duty truck volumes to improve against the weak 2009 numbers. Sales in the first half of 2010 are expected to fall and then rise in the latter half of the year.

A modest recovery is forecasted for U.S. automotive suppliers in 2010 based on higher projected light-vehicle production in the United States, the benefits of cost cutting actions in 2009, and recent capital markets transactions that have improved the sector’s credit quality.

The outlook is also supported by less uncertainty regarding the U.S. original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and likely volume increases in emerging markets. The recovery is expected to be tempered by weak macroeconomic conditions, particularly in the United States, and lower light-vehicle and commercial-truck sales in Europe. Fitch also has longer term concerns about industry overcapacity and the structure of the supplier industry. Given the dismal automotive environment in 2009, comparisons in 2010 should fare well.

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