Toyota: Slowly, Slowly The Colossus Crumbles Photo:
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Tim O'Brien | May, 06 2014 | 17 Comments

For the best part of 25 years, Toyota has dominated the Australian market with a vice-grip on a 20 percent market share.

We’ve commented about it before, and not so long ago.

Others have ebbed and flowed, mostly ebbed in a fragmenting market, but Toyota has stood above it all - the Colossus of Rhodes, imperious and unassailable.

But now it’s beginning to tremble. With each month its grip on the market loosens, and it has a baying pack inching closer.

There is still daylight between its heels and that pack; but the pack is now vastly more diverse.

And Toyota finds it is not only being attacked by traditional rivals, Mazda, Holden (again) and Ford et al, but the slings are also coming from above - from a prestige sector pressing down - and from below, from those pesky and rapidly improving Koreans.

Toyota now holds an 18.2 percent market share. In 2012, it held 19.6 percent, in 2009, 21.4 percent, and in 2008, 23.6 percent.

In five years, it has lost 3.2 percent market share. In six years it has conceded 5.4 percent of this market.

That loss is more than the current combined market share of Mercedes-Benz (2.8 percent) and BMW (2.1 percent) - that’s a lot of cars.

Toyota’s problem is its inflexible 'fixed' product mix.

While it continues to lead in each of the key market segments, its more agile opponents are punching holes everywhere in a staid and largely unchanged product portfolio, and filling niches Toyota chooses to ignore.

Its cars are improved, sure, but did we really need a bigger fatter Kluger, a slightly better RAV4, another update on an ancient HiLux, another staid (though worthy) Corolla and an even plainer Prius, the Prius V?

The harder you look at Toyota’s current direction, the more it appears that Akio Toyoda’s promise of a more dynamic brand and of “no more boring cars” looks like corporate lip-service.

Take out the 86, and Toyota has not a single model with ‘wow factor’ - not like the Mazda3 or CX-5, not like the Golf GTI or Mercedes A-Class.

Certainly not like niche fillers like Audi’s dynamic RS Q3 and SQ5, and much less anything robustly dynamic (as opposed to simply badged ‘Sport’) in any segment.

And in a fragmented (and still fragmenting) market, those niches are becoming increasingly important.

For Toyota, there is also that fact of the missing word: diesel. While the Europeans have made zesty but frugal light diesels an artform, Toyota makes truck engines.

We still get here a Toyota model line-up based on the North American market - no light diesels in the hatch/sedan/wagon segment, doughy hybrids instead.

Yes, there’s the RAV4 diesel, but why not the Kluger?

“And the Corolla?” I hear you say. “Knocked Mazda3 off its perch, the top-selling small car.”

True. But the small car market has grown significantly since, say, 2009. In December that year - five years ago - the Corolla notched up 3504 sales. Last month, claiming top spot, it sold 3315 hatches and sedans.

And it’s losing share not only to Mazda3, Golf and the usual suspects, but to a gaggle of newer players all fishing in different parts of the same buyer pond - like the Kia Cerato, Renault Clio, Audi A3, BMW’s 1 Series, and then that motley crew of small SUVs like the semi-hatchback Dualis/Qashqai, Trax et al.

Collectively, all these competitors in all these little corners of this younger buyer market, are chewing away at the Corolla’s foundations.

So what is it with Toyota?

A friend rang me for advice for a tow vehicle. I suggested he buy another Prado (he’s had his current one for untold years) - unstressed, immensely strong and with bullet-proof resale, why would you change horses?

“Oh,” he moaned, “I was hoping you’d say something else. Isn’t there something with a bit more panache and style?”

And that’s the creeping cancer that will slowly overwhelm Toyota.

Above: the recently updated Camry sedan." class="small img-responsive"/>
Above: the recently updated Camry sedan.
It is losing its grip on buyers' imaginations. And just one car, the 86, won’t do anything to stop that slide.

And it can't continue to ignore those growing niches that the Europeans and Koreans are so adept at plugging, nor the buyer sentiment driving manufacturers to fill them, if it doesn’t want to be dragged back to the pack.

And it’s also being dragged back in its key segments.

HiLux, remember, has more than once topped total vehicle sales in this country - in 2009 it notched up 38,457 sales for the year, hitting 4131 sales in December that year alone.

Ford Ranger is now challenging it, and will overtake HiLux within months on current projections.

Top 5 light commercial sales for April 2014 (4X2 and 4X4 combined)

  1. Toyota HiLux: 2574 sales
  2. Ford Ranger: 2094 sales
  3. Mitsubishi Triton: 1372 sales
  4. Holden Colorado: 1260 sales
  5. Mazda BT-50: 1001 sales

Top 5 vehicle manufacturers 2014 year-to-date:

  1. Toyota: 63,051 sales, down 2.9 percent YTD
  2. Holden: 35,429 sales, up 8.1 percent YTD
  3. Mazda: 34,785 sales, up 0.6 percent YTD
  4. Hyundai: 31,186 sales, up 3.8 percent YTD
  5. Ford: 26,577 sales, down 3.6 percent YTD

And in the baying pack outside this list is Mercedes Benz with 9355 sales, up 17.8 percent YTD, BMW with 6810 sales, up 10.7 percent YTD, and Audi, 6276 sales, up 18.8 percent YTD.

Put all that together and there is one inescapable conclusion: Toyota is a shrinking colossus and will never regain the ground it has conceded.

Tim O’Brien
TMR Managing Editor

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