Even though a federal study finds no evidence that electronic defects account for sudden acceleration in its vehicles, Toyota faces major hurdles restoring its image and market share. A host of new and revamped planned product introductions places the ball in Toyota’s court for revitalized Momentum.
“Customers are walking away with the perception that even though a Toyota is well built, they don’t see it as the next step in design, styling and innovative features,” said Alexander Edwards of Strategic Vision Inc., an automotive research and marketing consulting firm.
That’s a pretty strong customer perception statement and for the first time in years, Ford and Chevrolet brands are eating into Toyota market share and in some cases, outselling Toyotas.
One example buyer who purchased an SUV last month rejected Toyota after test-driving several makes and models.
“I liked the people at Toyota the best, but the cars lagged a bit, both in styling and acceleration,” the buyer said. She also liked the interior of the SUV she purchased better.
Toyota’s share of the U.S. auto market fell to 15.2 percent last year from 17 percent in 2009. Continued momentum was of course hampered by the recall of millions of vehicles, the record payment of nearly $50 million in federal fines for failing to promptly inform regulators of defects in its vehicles and delaying recalls, and the endless government hearings. It was the only major automaker to log a sales decrease from 2009.
The company is responding with a flood of new products including a new Prius Wagon and new Camry and will launch a new advertising campaign this month that reminds consumers that it remains the top retail car brand in America, a Toyota Management spokesperson said, adding, “You are now going to see a relentless focus on our product.”