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December/2010 Sales Show Toyota's Resilience

December sales delivered few surprises. They were better than expected, with the GM, Ford and Chrysler all ending the year on a roll (*Check out the interview on just how bullish some analysts are on GM).

And then there is Toyota.

December Sales:

  • GM (core brands) up 16%
  • Ford up 6.7%
  • Chrysler up 16.4%
  • Toyota down 5.5%
Tustin Toyota dealership in Tustin, California.
Getty Images
Tustin Toyota dealership in Tustin, California.

On the surface, you'd look at that and think Toyota limped out of horrific 2010 where massive recalls pummeled sales. That's the surprise.

For the year, Toyota sales were only fractionally lower.

In fact, Toyota sold roughly 6,500 fewer vehicles in 2010 than in 2009. Pretty remarkable when you consider the company had to recall millions of cars and trucks, was the butt of jokes about shoddy quality, and spent much of the year in PR hell.

So why did Toyota not see sales plunge as much as you would expect? You can thank customer loyalty.

Despite all the bad press and the recalls, Toyota buyers generally stuck by Toyota. Sure, the automaker had to sweeten the pot with incentives to close many of those sales, but it still got folks in the door. That's a testament to the goodwill and quality reputation Toyota build up over the last thirty years. Has Toyota exhausted that good will? It's hard to say. At some point, the company will pay an even bigger price for having an aging line-up that lacks momentum.

But for now, Toyota has weathered the storm.

When the recall crisis exploded last year, I remember talking with a friend who said, "Nobody will touch a Toyota now."

At the time I predicted Toyota's biggest loss would be the lost opportunity to win over new buyers.

That's happened.

Just as many people have steered clear of Toyota, many others have stuck with the brand because they've never had a problem with with their Camry or Prius.

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___________________________ Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.comand Follow me on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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