The Japanese giant Toyota announced on Tuesday that it had sold 11.2 million vehicles in 2023, a new record consolidating its first place in the world in volume. But the Japanese colossus is keeping a low profile, while three of its subsidiaries are affected by scandals. The increase over one year was robust (7.2%), while the group (Toyota, Lexus, Daihatsu and Hino brands) benefited from a surge in its sales of hybrid vehicles and the absorption of shortages of semi- drivers, who had previously slowed down its production.
Toyota regained the symbolic title of world number one automobile by volume in 2020 and has retained it since, ahead of the German group Volkswagen, which again came second last year with 9.24 million vehicles sold ( 12%, according to figures published in early January). South Korean Hyundai-Kia retained third place on the podium, with 7.3 million units sold in 2023 (6.7%). Even excluding its subsidiaries Daihatsu (mini-cars) and Hino (trucks and buses), Toyota and Lexus delivered more vehicles than their major German and South Korean competitors, at 10.3 million units in 2023 (7, 7%).
However, Toyota has nothing to brag about at the moment: both Hino and Daihatsu are plagued by irregularities in the certifications of their vehicles in Japan, bad practices that have been going on for years. Hino's sales fell last year because of this scandal (-9.8%), and Daihatsu has suspended all its production since the end of December, hoping to gradually resume it from February.
Toyota also announced on Monday the suspension of shipments of ten diesel models due to similar irregularities in the approval of their engines in Japan, produced by another of its subsidiaries, Toyota Industries. “I am ashamed to admit that such situations have occurred,” declared Tuesday the chairman of the board of directors of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, during a press conference in a former factory of the group converted into a memorial museum in Nagoya (central Japan).
Like Toyota at the end of the 2000s, when the brand had to carry out giant recalls of vehicles around the world due to quality problems, its subsidiaries “lost sight of the values and priorities that should have been maintained”, Akio Toyoda estimated. He pleaded for a return to basics, focused on “gemba”, Toyota’s “philosophy” of optimizing its processes by placing the workshop, its employees and its products at the heart.
“Regaining the trust of our customers will take time,” said the grandson of the founder of Toyota, who expressed his “deep apologies” for the scandals affecting his subsidiaries. He also said he felt “fully responsible” for these scandals. But rather than resigning, he wants to “act” and share with the subsidiaries his past experience of Toyota’s recovery in the 2010s, he explained.
Subsidiary scandals “could potentially have repercussions on Toyota's overall reputation, especially if concerns focus on governance and ethical practices,” Tatsuo Yoshida, an auto analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said Tuesday. “The extent to which they spread beyond Japan will depend on the severity of the problems, how Toyota deals with them” and how its reaction will be perceived by public opinion, he added. .
Toyota is also lagging behind in the 100% electric segment, in which it sold only 104,018 vehicles in 2023. A figure which has certainly quadrupled over one year, but which still pales in comparison to the American Tesla (1, 81 million electric cars delivered) and to the Chinese BYD (1.57 million units). But for now, Toyota is largely compensating for this weak point with the dynamism of its global sales of hybrid vehicles (more than 3.4 million units in 2023, a jump of 31.4% over one year).
Toyota is targeting 1.5 million electric sales per year from 2026, but this objective looks increasingly difficult to achieve.