Toyota's first-half SUV sales help top VW for world No. 1

Posted: July 31, 2014 at 2:51 a.m.

Attendees at the New York International Auto Show look at the undercarriage of a Toyota Motor Corp. Lexus IS 350 F sport vehicle in this April file photo.

TOKYO -- Toyota maintained its global sales lead over Volkswagen in the year's first six months as rising U.S. demand for sport utility vehicles paced a first-half record.

Deliveries for Toyota, including its Hino Motors Ltd. and Daihatsu Motor Co. units, climbed 3.8 percent to 5.1 million vehicles in the first half, according to a company statement. By comparison, Volkswagen reported sales of 4.97 million units, excluding results for its heavy-truck units.

Japan's largest listed company has benefited from U.S. buyers' desire to drive sport utility vehicles, which are on pace to outsell sedans in the market for the first time. Rising deliveries of the new Toyota Highlander and Lexus GX drove U.S. market share gains as Volkswagen posted sales declines and pledged to introduce a midsize SUV in 2016.

"They've gotten so good at building products that really hit with customers," said Jim Press, a former U.S. sales chief and 37-year Toyota veteran who now consults for the Renault-Nissan alliance. "Contrast that to Volkswagen: They don't have this market figured out. They've failed to succeed in North America because they don't really understand it."

In the U.S., deliveries of the Highlander SUV surged 17 percent this year through June, while sales of the RAV4 crossover climbed 15 percent. The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker also more than doubled deliveries of its refreshed Lexus GX SUV.

Including more fuel-efficient, carlike crossover models, SUVs accounted for 36.5 percent of U.S. new-vehicle registrations this year through May, compared with 35.4 percent for sedans, researcher IHS Automotive said this month. Sedans, which held the top spot for decades, had led 36.6 percent to 33.9 percent a year earlier.

Toyota and Lexus SUV models outsold Volkswagen and Audi by 7-to-1 in the U.S. this year through June, according to researcher Autodata Corp. To revive flagging sales in the world's second-largest auto market, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based company plans to add a seven-seat SUV to its lineup in 2016 and build the model at its Chattanooga, Tenn. factory.

Toyota and Volkswagen both outsold General Motors Co. during the first six months of the year. Worldwide deliveries for the largest U.S. automaker increased 1.4 percent to 4.92 million cars and trucks as rising sales in China and the U.S. helped offset declines in Europe and South America.

Consumer demand for GM vehicles held up even as the Detroit-based company called back almost 29 million vehicles in North America this year. Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra led GM through an unprecedented pace of recalls after February, when the automaker began fixing compact cars with potentially faulty ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths.

Toyota maintained its global lead even as its aging Prius hybrid paced declining deliveries in Japan after a government tax increase took effect April 1. Prius fell to third place among Japan's top-selling models in the first half after leading the industry in the year-earlier period. The model's slump contributed to Toyota posting wider sales declines than the total industry during the period.

"The result was surprising," said Yoshiaki Kawano, a Tokyo-based analyst for IHS automotive. "The negative effect from the rising tax rate wasn't as big as we assumed. Their sales should be aided by the U.S., where the economy is good and consumer's tastes are shifting from traditional sedans to pickup trucks and SUVs."

Toyota and Volkswagen both have forecast more than 10 million deliveries for 2014. Toyota sold 9.98 million vehicles last year to lead the industry for the second consecutive year, followed by Volkswagen's 9.73 million and GM's 9.71 million.

Business on 07/31/2014