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Toyota's Surge; Taurus' Return?

Toyota keeps rolling. What else is new?

Tuesday in Japan the company reported it's quarterly profits and posted a 7.3% increase. Impressive given the company's home market of Japan is going through a slowdown. But Europe and North America more than made up for the sluggish market in Japan. Toyota'ssurge in Europe has long been one of the most under appreciated aspects of the automakers recent run. Just five years ago, Toyota was struggling in Europe and considered an also-ran. But since then, Toyota's focus and execution in a brutally competitive continent have put the automaker on a path to becoming a leading player. Toyota still has a ways to go in Europe, but with it's momentum and execution, I would be surprised if the automaker's business over there remains strong.

Meanwhile, Toyota is rolling in the U.S. where the company's biggest roll out ever starts this week. The new Tundra full size pick-up goes on sale this week. Toyota has spent more money pushing the Tundra than it's ever spent rolling out a new car. From sponsoring events at State fairs to saturating the TV with "in your face" commercials touting the performance of the new Tundra, Toyota is serious about cutting in to the Detroit 3's dominance in trucks.

The Taurus Returns?

Automotive News is reporting Fordplans to re-name it's 500 sedan as the Taurus. An announcement could come as soon as tomorrow at the Chicago auto show. This change doesn't surprise me given the comments new CEO Alan Mulally has made about the demise of the old Taurus. At a dinner in Detroit last month, Mulally remarked to me and other reporters, "I can't figure out why they (Ford Mgt) failed to keep investing in the Taurus when it was a hot selling car. It's got great name recognition and was a fantastic car."

The key word in his comment- "was". The Ford 500 sedan is not the Taurus and I'm not sure how much re-naming the car will help sales. At it's height of popularity the Taurus was a sharp looking small sedan. The 500, while it's been improved, is a stodgy and relative boring model compared to other sedans.

I understand what Mulally is doing, and he's right to try and use a highly recognizable car name to help sales. But at the end of the day, the new Taurus is still a 500 and in it's current form, it has a long ways to go before it comes even close to being what the Taurus was for so many years.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com


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