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Imported Camry leads Toyota hybrid sales boom

Electric feel: Since its launch in November last year, the hybrid Camry has been the pick of the powertrain bunch for buyers, accounting for more than 50 per cent of sales.

Hybrid version of Toyota Camry proving to be more popular than V6 or four cylinder

Toyota logo20 Apr 2018

By JUSTIN HILLIARD

TOYOTA Motor Corporation Australia (TMCA) has revealed that sales of the imported 12th-generation Camry mid-size sedan, particularly in hybrid form, have exceeded the company’s expectations after local production of the former model ceased in October last year.

Speaking to GoAuto at the HiLux national media launch in Port Augusta, South Australia this week, TMCA vice-president of sales and marketing Sean Hanley confirmed that the Camry sales split had taken an unexpected but welcome turn.

“The new Camry is doing well on the market, so it’s exceeding our plans at the moment,” he said. “But what’s really exciting for us is fact that over 50 per cent of our current orders are hybrid sales.

“That’s an exciting outcome for us over the volume. The volume is solid, very solid, but now we’re having an internal review on where we set the mix of hybrid versus petrol.

“We had a target of around 30 per cent, it’s currently running at 50 per cent – that’s very early post-launch, so we need to be careful. However … looking at the orders that have come in this month, they suggest this might be 50 per cent (again).

When questioned if this sales split was sustainable for the hybrid Camry, Mr Hanley said: “Realistically, I think it will settle around 40 per cent.”

Hybrid variants currently account for less than 20 per cent of overall sales in Toyota’s Australian model line-ups – including Camry and Corolla – where the petrol-electric set-up is available.

“We’d like to get it to 20 per cent, but overall it’s significantly less,” he said. “That’s our target going forward.”

Mr Hanley explained that well-formulated product planning had specifically benefited the Camry hybrid’s sales prospects.

“Certainly the Camry strategy and its positioning, what it’s telling us very clearly is that if you position the product correctly and put the right specification … at a reasonable price position, then people will buy hybrid.

“This myth that people will not buy hybrid, I will challenge everyone right now to just look at the Camry – it’s dispelling that myth.”

Since its launch in November last year, 2612 examples of the Japanese-built Camry have found homes, while the Australian-built model has accounted for 4061 sales during the same five-month period.

Sales of the Camry are down 19.1 per cent year to date, with the 3551 vehicles sold to the end of March including 1136 locally made examples. If these are disregarded, the model’s volume has dipped by 45.0 per cent.

Comparatively, the Holden Commodore has decreased its volume by 53.7 per cent year-to-date, but its hit is even more significant, at 88.8 per cent, when Australian-built vehicles are removed from the equation.

Mr Hanley confirmed that this impact on sales was anticipated following the aforementioned closure of TMCA’s manufacturing plant in Altona, Victoria.

“We expected it to come off in terms of volume against the locally made (model), because, we don’t shy away from it, we had a genuine commitment to our employees and our suppliers to continue manufacturing right to the conclusion date – and that was rock solid,” he said. “So we had to stimulate that market a fair bit in terms of our retail pricing and our positioning.

“Clearly we set a benchmark in the market, but we knew that was not sustainable post-manufacturing. We expected and planned for some volume decline of which is kind of around the numbers we are seeing.

“What we were a little conservative on is imported Camry sales in our planning.

I don’t mind saying that up front, because it’s exceeding our current plan.”

Mr Hanley revealed that while some buyers coming out of previous-generation Camrys have not purchased the new model, they did look at other offerings from the Japanese marque.

“What we’re also seeing is that Toyota owners in those (Australian-built Camrys) previously that may be changing over now are typically looking at new Camry, C-HR, RAV4 (and) Corolla sedan to some degree,” he said. “So, what we’re seeing is people staying in the Toyota brand, they’re just moving.”

When questioned if the RAV4 will permanently supplant the Camry as TMCA’s best-selling model behind the HiLux and Corolla, Mr Hanley said: “I think it’s reflecting the market trend.

“Because, when we look at the market, it’s clear what’s growing – pick-ups and SUVs. So, I think that’s just a natural alignment with the market trend … I don’t see the market trend changing anytime soon.”

The RAV4 has accounted for 5573 sales to end of March this year, up 11.8 per cent, while the Camry lags behind on 3551 units during the same period, down 19.1 per cent.

Meanwhile, Mr Hanley ruled out importing the diesel version of the incoming fifth-generation RAV4, instead persisting with its previously-announced line-up of petrol and hybrid powertrains.

“Our direction in this market is clearly towards hybrid,” he said. “We’ve been on that journey for 17 years, so it’s not like it’s kind of new for us.

“It started in October 2001 with the initial launch of the Prius. We’ve expanded from Prius to Camry, to Corolla, soon RAV4, and by the end of 2020, we expect to have eight hybrid versions in the Australian market under the Toyota brand.

“Our commitment’s clearly to the hybrid side moving forward, although we still recognise diesel has a place in the market, particularly on our commercial vehicles.

“Clearly for us moving forward into a probable CO2-regulated market, we’ll have a number of different powertrains available to us in the future.

“We certainly expect the RAV4’s going to be a great car, and offering the hybrid variant adds a little bit more scope to the volume potential of that vehicle going forward.”

Overall Toyota sales are up 8.1 per cent to the end of March, to 52,465 vehicles, while the overall market is up 4.4 per cent, with Mr Hanley commenting that it was a sign of brand momentum, even after the local plant closure.

“We are encouraged by the sales, we never take it for granted,” he said. “We’re in a super-competitive market, we’re up against some really good competition – there are some really nice cars out there in the Australian market.

“We never take that momentum or position for granted. We’ve planned very carefully post-closure of manufacturing for Toyota, (and) we’ve planned very carefully out for the next five years.

“We are looking very carefully at our loyalty and retention strategies going forward as a big part of our sales process. But most importantly we’re also looking at how can we make the whole sales process more guest-friendly.

“So we should be careful when we talk about sales, volumes, being number one, because we’re proud of our position – never take it for granted.”

When questioned what the sales projections were for 2018, Mr Hanley said: “We’ll do over 200,000 (units), I’m pretty certain we’ll continue to grow our business this year.

“When you look at that against the backdrop of (losing) locally made Camry and Aurion sales, it’s a pretty good result.”

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