Toyota says its dealers are writing more orders than they can deliver due to stock shortages, and the sales data isn’t a true reflection of current demand.
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Market leader Toyota says new-car sales are recovering quicker than the industry had forecast during the grip of the coronavirus crisis – and dealers are taking orders for more cars than they can deliver, due to severe stock shortages.

Analysis by Toyota – which has been market leader in Australia since 2003 – predicts the sales tally for 2020 will fall to its lowest level in 17 years.

At the current sales rate – down 20.5 per cent year-to-date to the end of September – the total number of new vehicles reported as sold in 2020 is on track to drop to about 845,000.

However, if the full year decline recovers to be down by only 15 per cent, the tally will be close to 858,000. If the annual decline is 10 per cent, the end of year figure will land at about 871,000.

Even if the end-of-year tally recovers to 900,000 sales, 2020 is currently on track to post the weakest sales result for new cars in Australia since 2003 (824,300 new vehicles were reported as sold in 2002, the last year Holden was number one, and 909,800 new vehicles were reported as sold in 2003).

However, such an outcome would be in stark contrast to how the industry was tracking in the first half of this year when COVID-19 lockdowns first hit.

April 2020 sales fell to their lowest level in at least 30 years – since records were kept – when new-car deliveries were halved (down 48.5 per cent) compared to the same month the prior year.

However, a stronger than expected June (down by only 6.4 per cent) – and strong demand in the following months due to the Federal Government’s extension of its instant asset write-off stimulus package – depleted dealers of popular models and created a stock shortage across many major brands.

Toyota says its dealers collectively signed up about 22,500 orders in September alone, for cars to be delivered in the coming months. These orders – combined with new customers walking through the door – are expected to deliver stronger than expected results, the car maker says.

“We’re starting to feel more optimistic about the economic future,” said the sales and marketing boss of Toyota Australia Sean Hanley.

“We’re by no means out of the woods, and there are too many people still suffering from the downturn … however, the macro outlook is healthier than it’s been since the economic impact of COVID began to bite in March.”

Toyota predicts that with a “modest recovery in the final quarter … perhaps 15 per cent below the same period last year … we could be looking at a full-year number close to 860,000 new-vehicle sales.”

Toyota says it is concerned about the sales it may have lost because it couldn’t supply cars in time.

“One of the great unknowns that will play out over time is exactly how many sales have been deferred, rather than lost," said Mr Hanley.

“Last month was the first time in a year our market share slipped below 20 per cent,” he said. “That was entirely due to stock (shortages).”

Even so, he said, Toyota dealers wrote 22,500 orders last month, “and that’s with Melbourne out of action”.

“On the retail side, October has been an excellent month for us – and we are in a strong position for the remaining two months of the year with much better supply of core models such as HiLux,” he said.

The monthly sales decline across the entire new-car market has remained steady since July, however an influx of new models from most major automotive brands should be reflected with improved sales numbers towards the end of 2020 and at the start of 2021.