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Toyota Rules Road in California

Times Staff Writer

If you’ve ever wondered as Toyota after Toyota after Honda rolled by on the freeway just how big a lead those automakers had in California, the numbers are in.

And they’re big.

In its first published look at new-vehicle registrations in the state, the California Motor Car Dealers Assn. found that in the second quarter, Toyota-brand cars and trucks accounted for 23.4% of all sales, followed by Honda at 12.4%.

The strong performance of the Japanese brands put them ahead of overall U.S. market leaders General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. The Ford brand was third in California in the second quarter, with a 9.6% share, and GM’s Chevrolet followed at 8.2%.

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The dealer group’s inaugural California Auto Outlook report will be published Thursday.

Add Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus luxury brand to the tally and its April-to-June share of the California market rises to a dominating 27%.

The numbers surprised Toyota spokesman Mike Michels, who said the company didn’t maintain such up-to-date, state-by-state registration information.

“It’s possible that we might have such a robust share for a quarter, but I’d find it amazing if we held it for a full year,” he said.

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For the last few years, Toyota’s annual California market share -- including Lexus and the youth-oriented Scion brand -- has ranged from 18% to 20% but has been growing, Michels said.

Toyota posted a 14.9% national market share for the first seven months of this year, up from 12.8% for the same period in 2005.

The dealer association numbers, compiled with data from AutoCount, a unit of credit-information firm Experian Information Solutions Inc., indicate that Toyota and Honda Motor Co. are spurting ahead on the strength of their reputations for reliability and fuel economy, analysts said.

“Toyota’s been pounding away on fuel economy in its ads, and both Toyota and Honda are brands that nobody criticizes you for buying, which is important to many buyers,” said George Peterson, president of AutoPacific Inc., a market-research firm in Tustin.

The numbers were no surprise to a leading Southern California dealer.

“I live with it every day,” said Bert Boeckmann, chairman of Galpin Automotive Group and president of its Ford dealership in North Hills, the brand’s highest-volume outlet in the country.

“When manufacturers in the U.S. were making big money on their trucks and SUVs in the 1990s, they were losing $1,500 on every car they sold and they allowed the car market to drift over to Toyota and Honda,” Boeckmann said.

Now they are paying for the lapse with diminishing presence in one of the nation’s largest automotive markets.

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Six foreign nameplates -- Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus -- accounted for 53.8% of the new passenger vehicles sold in the state in the second quarter.

Although today’s sky-high gasoline prices help explain some of their popularity -- with many buyers switching from large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles to smaller cars -- the gap has been big for years. It’s just growing at a faster rate these days.

The dealer group’s report predicts a 3.1% dip in new car and truck sales in California this year, to 2.09 million from 2.16 million last year.

Boeckmann -- who also owns Lincoln-Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar-Aston Martin, Mazda, Saturn and Honda dealerships -- said the slowdown was largely the result of last year’s summer incentive blowout, which pulled a lot of auto buyers forward and out of this year’s market.

The report shows that subcompact cars and compact pickup trucks posted the biggest gains in market share in California during the first half of the year. Minivans, mid-size SUVs and full-size pickups posted the biggest declines.

Ford’s full-size F-150 pickup, however, remained the leading model in the state, accounting for 3.9% of sales in the first half, and five of the top 10 models were pickups or big SUVs -- a testament to California’s love affair with trucks, regardless of what’s happening at the gas pump.

The F-150 was closely followed in popularity by Toyota’s Camry mid-size car, with 3.8% market share through June.

The rest of the top 10: the Honda Civic compact car, at 3.4%; Toyota Corolla compact, 3.2%; Honda Accord mid-size, 3%; Toyota Tacoma compact pickup, 2.3%; Chevrolet Tahoe large SUV, 2.2%; Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup, 2.1%, Toyota Tundra full-size pickup, 1.6%; and Nissan Altima mid-size, 1.5%.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Top 10

Market share of top-selling auto brands in California in the second quarter

Toyota: 23.4%

Honda: 12.4%

Ford: 9.6%

Chevrolet: 8.2%

Nissan: 7.0%

Mercedes-Benz: 3.7%

BMW: 3.7%

Lexus: 3.6%

Dodge: 3.6%

GMC: 2.6%

Source: California Motor Car Dealers Assn.

Los Angeles Times


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