Toyota Getting Numbers Boost from Fleet Sales

Toyota appears to be making large fleet sales of old models like the Yaris.

Toyota appears to be making large fleet sales of old models like the Yaris. (Toyota)

We spent much of 2011 watching Toyota descend into what we’d term as a bit of a funk. The Japanese company went from being the world’s top automaker to a fourth place finish, behind General Motors, Volkswagen and the Renault/Nissan joint venture.

And then last week, Toyota reported their January 2012 sales numbers. Their increases in December and the first month of the new year made it seem as though sales for Toyota were back in high gear.

With a January total up 7.5 percent over a year ago, based largely on increased demand for their bread-and-butter Camry and the multiple hybrids they offer, and a slight uptick as the year closed out, maybe, just maybe, 2012 would prove to be much better than the year before, where Toyota suffered a nearly 7 percent decline in year-to-year sales.

But are the Toyota numbers from January indicative of a turnaround?

Perhaps not.

If the numbers Toyota sold in fleet sales – meaning cars being delivered to rental car companies in January – their U.S. sales would have been up less than a single percentage point. Toyota sold nearly 50 percent more cars to rental agencies in January than they did a year earlier.

Fleet sales have never been important to Toyota, and the company has normally avoided getting into them, unlike U.S. automakers GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Compared to selling cars to individual consumers, fleet sales don’t generate high levels of profit, and they have long been considered a negative in terms of branding and image, since cars sold to fleets will flood the used car market.

The sharp increase in fleet sales is a big change for the Japanese automaker, which has long shied away from that market because it’s less profitable than sales to individuals.

For their part, Toyota says sales to rental agencies aren’t a long term trend and should wind down after March. They’re simply making up for contractual obligations they couldn’t meet in 2011 after the earthquake that shuttered many of their factories.

About Cecil Helton

Cecil Helton Cecil Helton is a U.S.-based writer and editor with passions for cars, motorcycles, boats, technology and social media. Much of his professional life since 1996 has been web-centric, and he’s written and developed content on a variety of subjects. His work in the houseboat industry received wide acclaim, such as winning the 1999 Cisco Systems Growing with Technology award and being named one of five finalists in the manufacturing sector of the 2000 Computerworld-Smithsonian Awards. As an Air Force brat, he spent much of his childhood in a two-year cycle of moving to a new place, making new friends, establishing a life, and then moving again. Destinations included: Kentucky, Illinois, Texas, the Greek isle of Crete, California and Ohio. Today you’ll find Cecil coping with his 15 year old son’s decision to pursue a motorcycle license at the same time he gets his driver’s license, being active across the web on multiple social media sites, and of course, writing articles and creating content on automotive and car insurance related topics right here at

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