2015 looks to have been a very good year for Toyota (NYSE:TM). Favorable exchange rates helped the giant Japanese automaker to very strong profits during the year. And Toyota looks set to once again win the global sales crown in 2015, with its chief global rivals General Motors (NYSE:GM) retrenching in several key overseas markets and Volkswagen (NASDAQOTH:VWAGY) hobbled by a massive emissions scandal.
Toyota also pushed ahead on some key technological fronts in 2015. Here are Toyota's best headlines of the year as we saw it here at The Motley Fool:
In the quarter that ended on March 31 (Toyota's fiscal fourth quarter), Toyota generated an operating profit of $5.31 billion. That trounced GM's $2.1 billion pre-tax profit for the same period, despite the fact that GM sold almost as many vehicles as Toyota.
Toyota's secret? Part of it is simply that Toyota, unlike GM, isn't in the process of recovering from years of mismanagement. GM CEO Mary Barra expects to boost the company's profits significantly as it harnesses its economies of scale over the next five or six years -- but Toyota's already there.
But another secret was the weakness of the Japanese yen versus the U.S. dollar and euro. Simply put, one dollar earned in the United States buys more yen than it did a year or two ago. For Toyota, which reports its profits in yen, that has been a boon all year, as we saw in the quarter ended June 30:
And once again in the quarter that ended on Sept. 30:
But that doesn't mean that Toyota wasn't also executing well on the fundamentals. Early in the year, I noted that while buyers at many other brands were eschewing cars in favor of SUVs, Toyota was still managing to sell plenty of sedans.
That "not-so-secret weapon" was the company's ever-popular compact Corolla.
But Toyota, like rival Honda (NYSE:HMC), has proven that it knows how to compete for SUV business, too. Both companies have popular car-based "crossover" SUV models that have posted big sales numbers in 2015, in the U.S. and in other markets such as China.
I took a look at that trend in July, noting that even though the two don't have big-selling full-size pickups like their Detroit rivals, both are doing well with crossovers.
That trend continued as the year went on, and we revisited it in October.
Toyota is also pushing ahead with high-tech efforts in areas that have historically been two of its strong points, safety and fuel efficiency. The company showed off its driverless-car technology in a demonstration in Tokyo in October, and let it be known that it plans to have full-blown autonomous cars available by about 2020.
Despite remarkably low gas prices, the company's green-car efforts continued to attract attention in 2015. Its Mirai sedan, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, represents an intriguing bet against the battery-electric technology favored by Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) and most of Toyota's big rivals.
But Toyota hasn't abandoned its now-dominant position in traditional gasoline-electric hybrids. It's launching an all-new Prius for 2016 that might be the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered car ever.
The new Prius is a significant product. But with gas prices so cheap, we continue to wonder whether it'll be able to revive Toyota's flagging hybrid-car sales in the near term -- or whether Toyota's loyal fans will continue to favor RAV4s and Highlanders instead. Either way, Toyota looks set for another good year in 2016.