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Is Toyota Back?

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The numbers are impressive.

So impressive you’d be tempted to ask yourself, “Is Toyota back?”

That’s the question the auto industry is asking after the Japanese automaker posted strong quarterly earnings, and a forecast for 2013 that centers around increased sales and earnings for the current fiscal year.

Consider the latest numbers from Toyota:

  • Q4 Earnings: $1.5 Billion
  • Q4 Revenue: $71.3 billion (up 23%)
  • Fiscal year profit: $3.5 Billion (down 30% )
  • Fiscal year sales: $232 Billion (down 2%)

But those are not the numbers people are talking about. The real attention in the auto industry is Toyota’s forecast for the current fiscal year (through March 2013):

  • Profit forecast of $9.5b for fiscal year
  • Toyota expects to sell 8.7million (up 1.3 million)
  • North America sales of 2.35 Million vehicles (up 26 percent)

Toyota’s projections fall just shy of what many analysts in Japan have been expecting. Even more telling is the commentary from Toyota executives. There was a restrained feeling as they talked about plans to grow sales and profits. Some of that is because Toyota is still wrestling with the impact of a strong yen which makes manufacturing vehicles in Japan a costly proposition. As much as Toyota is building more models outside of Japan to lessen the impact of the yen, it still has a heavy production schedule back home.

There is also something else at play with Toyota.

Perhaps the Japanese automaker has learned after three very challenging years to focus less on volume and more on what really matters: profit per vehicle. Toyota’s margins have been squeezed and rebuilding them won’t be easy given the competition it faces. Whether it’s Audi pressuring Lexus on the luxury side of the business or Hyundai taking share in the mass market, Toyota will have to work harder than ever to win over buyers and command a premium price.

Which brings us back to the question of whether Toyota is back? To an extent it is, but Toyota may not ever be able to get back to where it was in 2007 and 2008 when it was picking up market share and huge profits around the world, but especially in the U.S., the auto business has changed dramatically over the last four years and Toyota now faces stiffer competition from a wider array of competitors including Ford, GM and Hyundai .


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