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Toyota's Opportunity: An Update

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Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) isn't just one of the world's most respected auto brands; it's one of the world's strongest brands of any kind. Japan's largest automaker has become the industry's reference point for automotive product quality and manufacturing efficiency, and many of the methods it pioneered have since become industry standards.

General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) and Ford (NYSE: F  ) turned around moribund manufacturing operations by emulating, and then building on, Toyota's vaunted approaches. But for all of its strength, Toyota has faced a sea of troubles in recent years: A massive tsunami in northern Japan decimated its supplier network and left some of its assembly lines idled for months, and global recall scandals have dented its reputation for quality and integrity.

But for all that, Toyota's resiliency has been impressive. The Japanese giant shrugged off its crises as if they were mere potholes and regained the global auto sales crown in 2012.

But is Toyota a buy? That's a more complicated question. To help answer it, last fall I created a premium research report to help investors understand the challenges facing Toyota, and the opportunities presented by the company.

That report has just been updated. What follows is an excerpt from the latest edition. We hope you enjoy it.

Toyota is immensely strong, but challenges persist
In the U.S., as in most of the world, Toyota's value propositions are quality and efficiency. Its cars may not be the most exciting, but they are safe choices -- likely to last a long time, with minimal maintenance, while delivering good fuel economy. While the sudden-acceleration recall fiasco of 2010 seemed to dent Toyota's reputation for a time, those impacts largely seem to have faded -- helped by Consumer Reports surveys that once again rate Toyotas at the top of the heap for quality. A recent study by Experian found that Toyota had regained the top spot in Corporate Loyalty for the first time since the third quarter of 2009.

That story, with variations, replays itself over and over around the world. In countries from Indonesia, where Toyota's Avanza is the runaway best-seller, to South Africa, where three of the top five sellers are Toyotas, Toyota's simple value proposition continues to find plenty of customers.

One exception to that rule has been Europe, where Toyota's presence is minimal. In recent years, that has worked to the Japanese giant's advantage, as market leaders VW, Ford, and GM all confront a recession-ravaged auto market that has led to significant losses. Toyota's decision to largely steer clear of Europe increasingly looks like a smart one, as GM and Ford have both struggled to contain losses running in the hundreds of millions of dollars every quarter.

It's a good story. But on the other hand, CEO Akio Toyoda and his team still have major challenges to confront.

The company announced a massive global recall of over 7 million vehicles in October of 2012, including 2.5 million in the U.S., to repair a faulty power-window switch that could be a fire hazard. That recall led at least one high-profile analyst to downgrade Toyota's shares amid worries that it could bring 2010's safety scandal back to the fore -- Toyota may have known about the defect for several years without taking action.

So far, the recall seems not to have had a major impact on Toyota's sales. The same couldn't be said for a controversy in China that hit Toyota hard last fall. A dispute between Japan and China over ownership of a group of islands led to sharp anti-Japanese sentiments in the Middle Kingdom -- sentiments that have played out harshly for the Japanese automakers. Toyota reported a 49% decrease in sales in September versus the year-ago figure, comparable to declines reported by Nissan and Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) . It responded by halving its production in China, and its 2012 sales fell well short of the company's earlier estimates.

Meanwhile, key competitors like VW, Hyundai, and Ford have all seen big sales increases in China as they have moved to take advantage of their Japanese rivals' troubles. It's still unclear whether this was a passing blip or a more enduring shift in consumer sentiments that will affect market share over the long haul. But it represented a sizable sales loss for Toyota -- one that could, should the shift prove enduring, damage its chances to challenge GM and VW for the global auto sales crown in future years.

Looking for more insight?
That was just a sample of The Motley Fool's just-updated premium report on Toyota. If you're weighing whether the company is a buy or sell, the latest edition of this report is an essential resource for investors seeking to understand the potential ups and downs of an investment in the electric-car manufacturer. Not only that, but the report also comes with updated quarterly guidance and dives into upcoming catalysts on the horizon. Just click here now to get started.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 05, 2013, at 8:32 PM, TinyTexan325 wrote:

    My daughter owns a Prius. She's had a few 'issues' with it, one in particular that she had while driving it and I had, while I was driving it. The car, while driving, came to an abrupt, sudden and very unexpected STOP in the road. The engine was still operating, the car just came to a STOP. There were warning noises, things flashing on the dash, etc., but on both occasions, the Toyota repair shops could not find anything wrong with the car. So, to us, Toyota isn't all that great.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2013, at 4:07 AM, SuperAla wrote:

    on my 2nd Toyota truck 1st new 2nd used when can.

    I will buy another toyota vehicle.

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