Editorial: Toyota's Unsexy Secret to Success

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Last year, Toyota Motor Sales USA swept past DaimlerChrysler in U.S. sales, and it's in position this year to pass Ford Motor Co. in the U.S. and General Motors Corp. worldwide. What makes Toyota so successful? Two of the answers are rather dull: Camry and Corolla.

Amid all the flash and dash offered at this month's Detroit auto show, here's something to ponder: The hottest-selling new car in the nation for the 18-24 crowd is Corolla, a prosaic sedan with a proven but dated design. And the best-selling car for their grandparents-65-plus-is Camry, restyled but still about as radical a choice as signing up for the Sun City lawn-bowling club.

Or look at best-sellers in bellwether California, where Camry and Corolla are two of the top three new vehicles for every age group, according to R.L. Polk & Co.

Toyota succeeds by delivering reliable, well-engineered, bread-and-butter vehicles, supplemented by smartly designed models from Scion to Lexus LS that appeal to narrower segments. Success is self-perpetuating: Polk says Toyota has the highest loyalty-repeat-purchase-rate of any auto brand.

As we reported on AdAge.com, Toyota Exec VP Jim Lentz last week offered an upbeat forecast for '07 industry sales, predicting the beleaguered Big Three will see some payoff from restructuring moves. That's a nice, politically correct comment about GM, Ford and Chrysler. It's certainly more diplomatic than the Toyota-trashing comment a week earlier from GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who kvetched that his rival now has more lobbying clout in Washington than GM does. (Note to Bob: Maybe what's good for Toyota is good for the nation.)

Maybe Detroit can rebound. Certainly Toyota is fallible; time will tell if it has resolved quality glitches that in recent years have dogged the company-and threatened its reputation.

But odds still favor Toyota. Its advertising often is as mundane as its cars, but the products and marketing messages are reliably consistent. Consumers know what they'll find in a Camry or Corolla. In the race for top-selling car, evolutionary beats revolutionary.
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