Paced by Camry, Toyota Reports Jump in January U.S. Sales

Analyst: Camry sedan is Toyota's best hope to rebound from a disastrous 2011.

Toyota's U.S. division reported a 7.5% year-over-year jump in vehicle sales in January, fueled by growth in sales of the 2012 Camry sedan.

"The momentum we saw building during the fourth quarter of last year picked up speed in January," said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., during a conference call on Wednesday.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. reported monthly sales of 124,540 units in January. Sales of the Camry and Camry hybrid shot up 55.9% year-over-year, combining for 28,295 units in January.

The Camry helped the Toyota Division post January U.S. sales of 112,266 units, up 9% year-over-year. The Lexus Division reported sales of 12,274 units, down 4.6% from January 2011.

The "monster increase" in Camry sales indicates just how important its bread-and-butter sedan will be to Toyota as it tries to rebound from 2011 -- a year in which the automaker lost market share and ceded the No. 1 spot in global sales to GM, largely due to supply shortages stemming from natural disasters in Japan and Thailand.

"Right now, Camry is Toyota's most important vehicle by a mile and it's the one vehicle that can singlehandedly bring their market share up from the recent low in 2011," senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said.

In Wednesday's conference call, Carter lamented that the automaker could have sold more Camry SE models if not for supply shortages.

"So we're adjusting our SE production mix in order to better meet customer demand in the months ahead, going from about 8% for the previous-generation Camry, to more than 40% for the current production mix," Carter said.

"And even though the new Camry hybrid didn't start arriving at dealerships until late last year, January sales of more than 2,100 were up 146%."

Based on the January sales results from the automakers, Carter projected that U.S. vehicle sales should hit 14 million units in 2012 based on a seasonally adjusted annual rate.

"That's the industry's best start to the New Year since 2008 and another reason we're optimistic about the coming year," Carter said.

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