February 12, 2009 / 1:15 AM / in 9 years

Toyota looking to build on Canadian growth in 2009

TORONTO (Reuters) - Toyota Canada Inc is cautiously optimistic about its prospects this year and aims to increase its market share by being aggressive while its competitors retrench, the company’s managing director said on Wednesday.

“There’s no question that sales overall are likely to be down in the market,” Stephen Beatty told Reuters on the sidelines of the Canadian International Show in Toronto.

“But there are plenty of opportunities for companies to pick up market share if they’ve got the right product and the right offers in the market.”

Overall auto sales in Canada fell 25 percent in January, but Toyota’s sales, not including Lexus, actually inched 0.3 percent higher.

So far this year, Toyota has launched the third generation of the popular Prius, the Venza crossover, the Lexus RX and the hybrid Lexus HS250H.

The company had its best ever yearly sales in Canada in 2008, jumping ahead of Ford Canada and Chrysler Canada to become the No. 2 auto seller in the country.

Beatty said part of what helped it get there was its access to credit from Toyota Financial. That allowed the company to provide leasing while companies like Chrysler and General Motors Corp largely pulled out of leasing in Canada.

Up until about a year ago, about 44 percent of new vehicles in Canada were leased, but since the credit crunch, that number has dropped closer to 20 percent.

To help alleviate the problem, the Canadian government said in its recent budget that it would provide up to C$12 billion ($9.7 billion) to loosen financing for vehicle and business loans and leases.

Beatty said the tightening of consumer credit was the No. 1 issue in the Canadian marketplace and the government’s decision to put the credit facility in place was a sound one, even if it helps the competition.

“The more people who start thinking about buying or leasing a new vehicle, the better shot we have at inviting them to come down and check out a Toyota,” he said.

Half of the vehicles Toyota sells in Canada are produced in Canada. That number is closer to 20 to 25 percent for Ford, Chrysler and GM.

($1=$1.24 Canadian)

Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Gary Hill

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