No automotive manufacturer has ever produced 10 million cars in a year. That is until Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) did it in 2013. Its worldwide production rose to 10.117 million, up 2.1% from 2012. The news cements the impressive comeback Toyota has made from quality problems and the effects of the 2011 Japan earthquake. It is also a reminder to other large car companies that Toyota’s blend of distribution, quality and model lines will make it hard to catch.
Toyota sells 77% of its cars and light trucks outside its home market, which is a strength by itself. In the U.S. market in particular, it sits in the number three spot, close to Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), which holds number two spot. It is not a stretch to believe that Toyota could take Ford’s spot. Toyota’s most significant advantage in America is that its model line is as large as General Motors Co.’s (NYSE: GM) and Ford’s. It Lexus luxury brand outsells GM’s Cadillac line and far outsells Ford’s Lincoln. Because luxury cars have much higher profit margins than other cars and light trucks, Toyota’s position with Lexus gives it a financial edge in America.
Toyota’s other advantage in the United States is that it continues to top most car quality research polls. That is a long way from when it recalled more than 8 million cars in 2010. The recovery points to the brand strength Toyota has garnered in America over several decades.
Toyota’s greatest chance to gather momentum over its major rivals GM and Volkswagen is improvement in sales in China and the European Union. Toyota’s sales in Europe are well behind most of the large car companies based in the region, which means that its quality reputation and model line give its some chance to pick up ground as it did in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. China, the world’s largest car market, will be harder to crack because of territorial disputes between China and Japan. At some point, however, those tensions are bound to calm, which would give Toyota a chance to gain on market leaders GM and VW.
Toyota has set a record for production in one year, and that record is likely to be extended into 2014.