Toyota Is Probably The New U.S. Sales King

Toyota is projected to have outsold GM in 2021, though it could be a one-off.

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Toyota had a good 2021, Tesla did, too, and the Ford F-150 Lightning. All that and more in The Morning Shift for January 4, 2022.

1st Gear: Toyota Probably Bested GM In America In 2021 For The First Time In Decades, But GM Doesn’t Sound Too Concerned

GM has been the top-selling automaker in the U.S. for as long as anyone cares to remember, exercising an easy dominance that has come to seem almost insurmountable. Until the pandemic, that is, and, more specifically, the chip shortage, which has left GM somewhat wrecked and Toyota somewhat less wrecked and what is expected to be a (temporary) passing of the torch this year.


From The Wall Street Journal:

Final U.S. sales tallies, scheduled to be released by most major auto makers later Tuesday, are expected to show that Toyota Motor Corp. finished as the top car company in annual sales for the first time, unseating General Motors Co., which has been No. 1 for decades.

Overall, auto makers sold just shy of 15 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, according to a forecast from research firm J.D. Power. That total would be up slightly from 2020, when the onset of the pandemic hurt car sales for part of that year. But it is a sharp drop from the mark of 17 million vehicles that the industry had eclipsed for five straight years before that.


Toyota was forecast to have sold about 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, up about 10%, according to research firm Cox Automotive. That would for the first time edge out GM, which likely sold about 2.2 million, a 14% decline, Cox said. A GM spokesman declined to comment on the company’s sales ranking. He said GM has given priority to its bestselling products, large pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles, and expects sales growth this year as the chip shortage abates.


This is the thing about automakers -- when their volumes are down it is because they are focussed on profitability, and when their volumes are up it is because the cars they make are just that popular. Anyway, GM says that when the chip supply is better, then sales will be, too, via Reuters:

GM spokesman Jim Cain said the Detroit automaker had a very strong sales year in the United States in full-size SUVs and pickup trucks as it has focused on profitability, and as the supply of semiconductors improves, so will sales.

“I wouldn’t rush out, if I were (Toyota), and get a ‘We’re No. 1' tattoo,” he said.


Counterpoint: Please, Toyota, rush out and get a “We’re No. 1" tattoo. That would own.

2nd Gear: Tesla Close To A Million Deliveries For 2021

Tesla reported Sunday that it delivered 936,172 cars globally for the full-year 2021, probably short of CEO Elon Musk’s aspirations but better than Wall Street thought Tesla would do, and also putting Tesla well on track to surpassing the million mark next year.


From Reuters:

“They have beaten all the odds,” Gene Munster, managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures, said on Sunday.

“The first is the demand for their products is through the roof. And the second is they’re doing a great job of meeting that demand,” he said.

Munster said he expected Tesla’s deliveries to grow to 1.3 million vehicles this year despite headwinds in production at its new factories and supply chain problems.

Tesla Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said in October that it was difficult to predict how quickly the company will be able to boost production at new factories in Texas and Berlin, which will use new vehicle technologies and new teams.

Tesla said in October that it aimed to build its first production cars at both facilities by the end of 2021, but it is not known whether it met that target. Tesla did not respond to a question from Reuters about the plants.


Coupled with Tesla’s continued profitability, Tesla as an automaker is becoming ever more undeniable, no matter what you think of its CEO or products.

3rd Gear: Ford Says It Is Almost Doubling F-150 Lightning Production

The production numbers on the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning have always been a little murky, with Ford previously saying that it would build a five-figure number of F-150 Lightnings to start, most recently pegged at around 80,000. Ford said Tuesday that it would instead make 150,000 F-150 Lightnings annually, with the first deliveries this spring. Ford says this is because of such crazy demand; I’m sure the announcement’s timing has absolutely nothing to do with the unveiling of the all-electric Chevy Silverado tomorrow.


From Ford:

Ford Motor Company said today it is planning to nearly double production of the F-150 Lightning™ pickup at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn to 150,000 trucks per year to meet high demand for the first all-electric version of America’s best-selling vehicle, the F-Series. And beginning Thursday, the first group of reservation holders will be invited to place their orders for the F-150 Lightning.

“With nearly 200,000 reservations, our teams are working hard and creatively to break production constraints to get more F-150 Lightning trucks into the hands of our customers,” said Kumar Galhotra, president of The Americas & International Markets Group, Ford Motor Company. “The reality is clear: People are ready for an all-electric F-150 and Ford is pulling out all the stops to scale our operations and increase production capacity.”


Ford also said in December that it would be tripling production of the Mustang Mach-E, to over 200,000 Mach-Es per year by 2023, because Ford is just so stunned with all of the demand. Even if both targets are realized, they would still represent a minority percentage of the 2-2.5 million cars Ford sells every year but, you know, progress.

4th Gear: Automakers Are Re-Embracing An Old Automaking Trend

That would be vertical integration, or owning more of their supply chains, rather than outsourcing parts and other things to suppliers, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Relying solely on suppliers to develop their battery technology would be akin to not making their own engines, said Thomas Schmall, a VW board member and chief executive of the company’s parts business, last year.

Ken Morris, GM’s head of electrification, said at the company’s investor day in October that bringing more of its battery supply chain in-house was key to meeting its future profitability and environmental targets outlined to investors. In addition to the cathode-material factory, GM also signed a deal over the summer to invest in a geothermal extraction project in California’s Salton Sea for lithium.

“Vertical integration will help us do it quicker, at a lower cost and more sustainably,” he said.


Executives say controlling more supply-chain production can help insulate companies from future price increases and shortages. The disruptions related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent semiconductor shortage are further pushing the car industry in this direction, prompting manufacturers to lessen their reliance on global outsourcing.

“Everybody wants to secure the supply chain and not repeat the very painful experience of the semiconductor shortage,” said Mathias Miedreich, CEO at Umicore.


Vertical integration, of course, is Tesla’s whole deal, and also was Ford’s whole deal decades ago, in the days of Henry Ford. If you stick around long enough in any industry, you’ll inevitably watch history repeat itself. Obviously, all of this has sent Tesla’s stock shooting up this week, again.

5th Gear: Toyota Is Doing Its Own Operating System For Autonomous Driving: Report

The software is called Arene, and will compete with similar efforts from the likes of Volkswagen and Mercedes, according to Nikkei and Reuters.

Toyota Motor Corp. is planning to launch its own operating system, which would be capable of handling advanced operations such as autonomous driving, for its vehicles by 2025, the Nikkei reported.


The Japanese automaker aims to put the operating system in its own vehicles by 2025, with plans to make it available to affiliates such as Subaru in the future, the Nikkei said.

Toyota is considering a licensing model to make Arene available to other automakers and companies working on electric or self-driving cars, the report added.


Automakers used to say that they aren’t heavy into software because they are bad at it, because if you’re any good at making software you’re not going to work for an automaker but for an actual software company. Well, I guess we’ll see how much that dynamic has shifted.

Reverse: EV1

Twenty-five years ago:


Neutral: How Are You?

A belated Happy New Year! The drive belt on the Fit has started to squeal, and I want to get the spark plugs replaced because they are 13 years old and, I suspect, at fault for a slight drop in fuel economy/power that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks. Or not, but the plugs are old and, after 84,000 miles, probably close to needing replacement anyway. All of which means a visit later to the Honda dealer in Hollywood, because I’m driving back to New York on Saturday and don’t want any fresh surprises, even if that means paying more because dealer. I’m certain this will still go wrong.