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Toyota or Chevy No. 1? Depends

January 03, 2008|From Bloomberg News

Toyota Motor Corp.'s namesake division may declare itself the No. 1 auto brand in the U.S. for 2007. General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet won't agree.

The dispute pivots on one question: How should sales of Toyota's Scion cars be tallied?

At stake are bragging rights that go with the top-selling line of autos in the U.S. Toyota's count includes Scions, cars that bear no Toyota badges and are marketed separately. By that measure, the Japanese automaker's lead through November sets the stage for a full-year win. Leave Scion out, and Chevy is likely to retake the title when results are released today.

"I don't think for a second that Scion is a Toyota vehicle; it's clearly its own brand," said Tom Libby, an analyst for J.D. Power & Associates. "You might as well count Pontiac vehicles as Chevrolet sales if you think Scion's a Toyota."

Overtaking Chevrolet, the largest of GM's seven U.S. brands, would mark another triumph for Toyota. It passed Ford Motor Co. in the last year to become the No. 2 seller of autos in the U.S. and is threatening to pass GM in global sales.

"We don't consider Scion a part of the Toyota brand," said Terry Rhadigan, a spokesman for Chevrolet. "On our scoreboard, we're leading."

Countered Toyota spokesman Xavier Dominicis: "We've always counted it that way, and it's sold only at Toyota dealerships."

A 14% sales decline through Nov. 30 at Ford's main division put Chevrolet in a position to retake the sales title it won in 2005. The Ford brand trailed the Toyota division, without Scion, by nearly 66,000 units at the end of November.

J.D. Power, based in Westlake Village, separates Scion from Toyota in its tallies, as does Ward's Automotive Reports. Another compiler of sales statistics, Autodata Corp., includes Scion in its Toyota-brand total.

Through November, the Toyota-Chevrolet race was tight enough to hinge on Scion. Including Scion, Toyota sold 2,101,804 cars and light trucks, for a 35,524-unit advantage. Without Scion's 121,237 vehicles, Chevrolet would be on top by 85,713.

Toyota says that unlike the luxury Lexus division, whose vehicles are sold at distinct dealerships and tallied separately, Scion was always intended to be a branch of the main brand. The automaker adopted that standard when the cars made their U.S. debut in 2003.

Counting Scions as Toyotas echoes an approach Chevrolet used when it tallied the Geo line of cars as its own, said David Lucas, an analyst with Autodata. He said his company registers Scion sales for Toyota because the automaker insists they are part of its main brand.

At its peak of 325,143 units in 1990, the Geo line made up 13% of Chevrolet's U.S. sales, according to Autodata. In comparison, Scion sales accounted for 7.8% of the Toyota division in 2006.

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