Toyota’s US sales are recovering in March, as improbable as that may seem. Industry research group Edmunds.com said the Japanese company’s zero percent incentive plan has brought Toyota’s market share in the US back up to 16.8% from 12.8% in March. Edmunds reports that “Toyota’s daily retail sales rate is running at about 47 percent higher than that of the same period last year, and about 71 percent higher than that of last month.”
On top of those numbers, Toyota’s Don Esmond, senior vice president of the company’s U.S. sales unit, told Bloomberg that he expects the firm’s market share to get back to 2008 levels very soon. If Toyota can accomplish that this year, — and Esmond did not rule that out – it would be able to vie for second place in the American market, most analysts believed would belong to Ford or GM.
Incentives alone will not keep Toyota’s market share in the 16% to 17% range. The power of the Toyota brand, established in the US over a period of thirty years would have to play a part. During that time, the car company had an unprecedented reputation for quality workmanship, affordable vehicles, and best in class fuel economy. It is possible, although few would have expected it, that Toyota’s reputation has been bent but not broken.
For Toyota to keep its recent momentum, it recalls will have to be a near-perfect success with customers. The number of new recalls or brands, which seem to grow every week, would have to end soon. And, the company’s level of cooperation with the federal government would have to rise. Members of the Administration and Congress have said that the Japanese car company has been less than forthcoming in releasing critical documents about defects in its vehicles.
Toyota also faces years of liability and class action suits, all of which will be front and center in the media.
The Toyota case will be telling about just how elastic brand reputation can be. If the car company’s market share puts it back into second, or even third place in the US market, it will be a miracle based on three decades of work, which means it is not much of a miracle at all. The car company’s effort will have counted for more than most people would have imagined
Douglas A. McIntyre