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The sales numbers tell the story: Toyota and Honda are back as a one-two automotive punch.

Toyota brand sales in Canada last month were up 68.8 per cent, while the company's Lexus luxury arm was up 41.9 per cent. Honda brand? Up 37.5 per cent, while on the Acura side sales surged 52.6 per cent. Nissan also had a great month, with sales up 33.9 per cent at the Nissan brand, 76.8 per cent at Infiniti.

Those numbers are astounding, really, and shocking in light of the precipitous fall both Toyota and Honda suffered in the last 12-18 months. Things grew so bad last year some were suggesting the sun was beginning to set on Toyota and Honda.

Not so. Dealer lots are now stocked and buyers seem to be coming back to Toyota and Honda stores.

"We are pleased that customers have more choices of our products compared with last year when we experienced a severe supply shortage due to the natural disaster in Japan," said Jerry Chenkin, executive vice-president at Honda Canada.

With the product pipeline fully stocked, Honda Canada saw sales of the CR-V jump 43 per cent, while the Pilot SUV was up 51 per cent. At Acura, sales of the RDX SUV surged 176 per cent.

Chenkin's U.S. counterpart was far more blunt after Honda sales down south jumped 48 per cent in May, following a two per cent decline the month before, noted Automotive News.

"Honda's return to strength is in full swing," said John Mendel, American Honda's top sales executive.

Toyota is also back to building vehicles at full capacity. Toyota Canada managing director Tony Wearing said the Camry and Prius family of vehicles are both very hot. Camry and Camry Hybrid combined sales were up 125.6, while the Prius family jumped 804 per cent, though that figure is a little misleading. That is, in May of last year Toyota offered just one Prius hatchback model, while this year there are three, including the Prius v wagon and the Prius c subcompact.

The truth is, a wide swath of observers and experts have been either announcing or predicting the return of Toyota and Honda. Both were staggered last year by earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan. The natural and unexpected crises hammered assembly line production and crimped parts supplies from key suppliers. Flooding in Thailand also caused production problems.

Nissan fared better than both Toyota and Honda, though the company was also very hard hit. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, in an interview earlier this year, suggested that Nissan suffered less because the company is nimble and well equipped to manage crises of any sort. He implied that is not the case at Honda and Toyota, though being the smart executive he is, Ghosn did not put it out there in so many words.

I have been interested in the flood of stories suggesting the worst is behind both Honda and Toyota and that, in fact, great days lie ahead. A recent headline at Global automotive business industry news, information, insight and market research services heralded upbeat sales and profitability forecasts at Toyota, even though the story noted that for Toyota's fiscal year ended March 31, both revenue and profits were down. Last year GM reclaimed the crown as the world's No. 1 auto maker from Toyota, with the Volkswagen Group sliding into second place ahead of No. 3 Toyota.

In a statement, Toyota president Akio Toyoda again noted the difficulties the company faced last year: "Certainly the last fiscal year was extremely challenging due to the natural disasters in Japan and Thailand, plus the unprecedented strength of the yen."

Automotive News also suggested that Toyota is back, describing the company as suddenly "looking like the juggernaut of old -- a warning to rivals that the window of opportunity for stealing market share from the former No. 1 brand may have snapped shut."

Perhaps. But the story of this comeback is about more than merely restocking the shelves with new Honda and Toyotas. Both companies, and Nissan, too, have of late resorted to offering higher than normal sales sweeteners to win back customers and reclaim market share. A 2012 Lexus ES 350 sedan, for instance, is being pushed with a $5,000 cash incentive, while sales of the Corolla are being sweetened with a $3,000 rebate.

No one in Canada tracks sales incentives comprehensively, but in the U.S., Automotive News reports that Honda in April spent $2,398 per vehicle in incentives, while in the same period Toyota's $1,823 average incentive spend was $600 higher than Hyundai-Kia's. Moreover, the publication notes that Toyota has boosted fleet sales to an atypical high of 15 per cent of its U.S. sales mix so far this year – rather than the more normal eight to nine per cent.

Similarly, the New York Times heralded these developments by noting "Toyota Back in the Game."

"Toyota's recovery is ‘mission accomplished,' much earlier than we thought," Jesse Toprak, vice-president for industry trends and insight at the automotive research Web site TrueCar.com, told the Times. "Their buyers are evidently more loyal than we thought."

The Wall Street Journal, however, did suggest that Toyota, Honda and other Japanese auto makers are not all the way back and may never get there. The marketplace is too competitive for that. And car companies from Japan still face a long list of challenges, not least of which is the high value of the Japanese yen which makes it tough to earn profits on exports from the home market.

Chris Richter, a Tokyo-based auto analyst for CLSA Asia-Pacific, told the Journal, "The ugly little secret about the Japanese auto industry is that they're probably never going back to the record profits of the past unless the yen weakens" further against the dollar.

We know for certain that Toyota, Honda and Nissan all have a barrage of new models coming this year; they will keep the spotlight on all three companies.

Toyota's latest includes the 2013 ES sedan coming in the summer, the new Scion FR-S sports car and reinvented RAV4 due later this year or early next. Honda's Acura brand has a new RDX sport-utility, along with the new ILX sedan, too. Coming this fall is the new Accord. And Nissan this summer will launch the 2013 Altima sedan with best-in-class fuel economy. That comes on the heels of Infiniti's new JX SUV. A totally revamped Pathfinder SUV is among other new models coming later this year from Nissan.

Whether or not Toyota and Honda are all the way back from depths neither had plumbed in decades remains to be seen. Without a doubt, however, both are a much greater force than a year ago. Nissan, which did not plunge as far and as fast, is quietly and steadily growing its lineup, its sales and its profits.

The takeaway: The Big Three Japanese car companies are not to be underestimated, even when hammered by unprecedented natural disasters.



Read more: Toyota and Honda are back | CTV News
 

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About time, Honda and Toyota both lost their "edge". With Toyota and Honda bringing out a lot of new cars, we can see how much they have improved. The ILX is a great example.
 

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I agree they both have lost their edge the car are no longer sporty and competetive.. its all very numb and boring cars they create.

Like How Honda's sad attempt with the recent 9th gen SI , where as toyota has it on point with the GT-86 and fr-s!
 
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