Toyota to mark first sales drop in decade

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Toyota Motor Corp.’s global auto sales are expected to total around 8.3 million units in 2008 on a parent company basis, marking the first year-on-year drop in 10 years, sources said Wednesday.

Toyota sold about 8.43 million units in 2007, but the auto giant estimates its car sales will drop in 2008 due to sagging auto markets at home and abroad, the sources said.

Sales in the United States, Toyota’s biggest market, have been hit particularly hard by the global financial turmoil and a worldwide economic downturn, putting the brakes on Toyota’s dynamic growth in previous years.

Toyota has steadily increased worldwide sales by over 500,000 units annually since 2003.

On a consolidated basis, which includes Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd. vehicles, Toyota’s global auto sales are likely to total around 9.3 million units, which would undershoot the previous year’s 9.37 million, the sources said.

For the group as a whole, it would mark the first year-on-year drop since the current data-gathering method was adopted in 2001.

Toyota initially set a global sales target of 8.84 million units in 2008 on a parent company basis, up 5 percent from a year before. But a heavy slump in U.S. sales prompted the firm to slash its target in July to 8.5 million units, up 1 percent from a year before.

In September, Toyota’s sales of new vehicles in the U.S. slid a hefty 32.3 percent from a year before, as financial panic spread following the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Industry observers said sweeping changes in the global economic landscape, which even hit auto sales in emerging markets like China, have resulted in a rare failure for Toyota to meet even a revised target.

On the domestic front, Toyota posted an 18.9 percent decline in auto sales for August on a parent company basis. With further deterioration in economic conditions and a price hike for models like the Prius hybrid last month, domestic sales are expected to continue to be sluggish.