Toyota’s strong start to 2012 got a boost from rental-car sales, a market it has avoided in the past, according to The Associated Press.
The company sold 24,409 cars and trucks to U.S. fleets in January, a 47 percent increase over January of last year. Without fleets, Toyota’s U.S. sales would have been up less than 1 percent for the month, instead of the 7.5 percent increase it reported.
The sharp rise in fleet sales is big change for the Japanese automaker, which has long shied away from the market because it’s less profitable than sales to individuals. Rental-car sales, in particular, can hurt a brand’s image and lower resale values because they flood the market with models. Ninety-three percent of Toyota’s January fleet sales went to rental-car companies. The rest went to corporate customers.
Toyota says it won’t be a long-term trend, and that it’s making up for contracts it couldn’t fulfill because of earthquake-related shortages last year.
The numbers don’t show which vehicles went to rental fleets, but two aging models – the Toyota Yaris subcompact and Toyota Avalon sedan – posted huge sales increases last month. That’s often a sign that cars are being sold to fleets.
Toyota typically sells 7 to 8 percent of its vehicles to rental fleets, but in January that rose to 18 percent.