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Toyota banks on another million market

RAV4: Toyota believes SUV sales will stay strong despite the rising price of oil.

Confidence is high at Toyota for a product-led near-record year in 2011

Toyota logo11 Mar 2011

TOYOTA is confident Australia’s new-vehicle market will hit the million-unit mark again in 2011 despite a slower-than-expected start to the year, thanks to a strong economy, low interest rates and a host of fresh models across the board.

Hit by natural disasters in four states during January and February, new vehicle registrations slid by 1.7 per cent, while Toyota volume fell by 6.2 per cent year-on-year, from 16,814 to 14,604 sales.

However, the world’s biggest car-maker, which has also been number one in Australia in eight of the last 10 years, still leads this year’s industry overall with a 19 per cent share – a dip of one per cent over the same time in 2010.

“At the moment we are still forecasting a market in excess of a million. We still see it being about the same as last year,” said Toyota Australia’s senior executive of sales and marketing, Dave Buttner, at this week’s FJ Cruiser launch.

“There are no real downward signs – the economy is still strong, interest rates are still low, the reserve bank didn’t raise interest rates, consumer confidence is still pretty high, and there is a plethora of new model activity from all manufacturers this year, and that always means it is a buoyant time for the market as people like to see shiny new metal in the showroom and that certainly helps sales.”

Mr Buttner dismissed the some economic indicators such as slower retail spending figures.

“Retail sales may be down fractionally but people are still buying cars – the market is too strong,” he said.

“You have to look at the seasonably adjusted data over time and after two months we’re still on track for a million.”

Toyota believes that even the effects of natural disasters in flood/cyclone-ravaged Queensland and fire-affected Western Australia are not enough to stem the flow of showroom traffic.

“We had meetings with dealers in Far North Queensland who were severely affected by floods,” Mr Buttner said.

 center imageLeft, from top: Toyota Australia’s senior executive of sales and marketing, Dave Buttner FJ Cruiser Kluger.

“And every one of them are talking confidently again. They didn’t have any service customers for quite some time, because people couldn’t get to their dealerships. But now they’re booked out, they’re already building engines and doing services again, and enquires have started coming back into the showrooms.

“Even they’re surprised by the level of enquires that have started to come back again. And what’s more they’ve delivered target volume – and that’s unbelievable.”

Mr Buttner added that the high number of insurance-covered irreparably damaged vehicles alone is helping to feed demand in disaster-struck areas.

“The last number I saw from the Insurance Council of Australia (indicated that) there are over 10,000 vehicles that are written off and would need replacement,” he said.

Mr Buttner is also confident the soaring cost of oil globally and its effect on fuel prices in Australia will not shake sales of SUVs – a traditional Toyota market stronghold.

“Go back a couple of years (when oil prices reached) $220 a barrel and (petroleum prices hit) $1.45 (per litre) and frankly there was not a significant change in the sales of those types of vehicles.

“So a person is usually buying that type of vehicle for a specific purpose and – although I don’t want to say what the tipping point is in terms of fuel prices – generally sales remain pretty steady, even when fuel prices have gone through the roof.”

Toyota will release a raft of core new models this year, including a facelifted HiLux (mid-year), completely redesigned Yaris light car (September) and a next-generation Camry around the same time, followed in early 2012 by its six-cylinder sedan sibling, the redesigned Aurion.

A model change for the Corolla and RAV4, as well as an as-yet unconfirmed sub-Yaris light car, are then expected to keep Toyota’s sales momentum moving during next year.

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