How quickly things can change. It wasn't long ago that Toyota (NYSE:TM) was cruising past its competition like an Indy car at a jalopy convention. But crude oil and gasoline prices -- along with a now-questionable decision or two -- has changed that state of affairs dramatically.

On Thursday, Toyota announced that its earnings for the most recent quarter had slumped by 28.1%, to $3.23 billion. At the same time, with activity retreating rapidly in the U.S. and Europe, its sales were down 4.7% in the quarter. And with U.S. sales falling by an additional 11.9% in July, the prospects for a pickup in this country don't appear good.

In fact, the term "pickup" could be the major culprit here. In recent years, the company has pushed its progressively larger Tundra pickup, which in retrospect wasn't wise. I was wandering aimlessly in my local Toyota dealer's showroom earlier this week, and came upon a bright red, full-throated Tundra with a sticker promising that the vehicle would not drink more than a gallon of gasoline for every 13 miles I drove it. Only recently has the company decided to slash the production of Tundras in the U.S. in favor of initiating the manufacture of the hybrid Prius here.

But things could be worse for Toyota. Unlike Ford (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM), who between them managed to spill more than $24 billion of red ink in the quarter, Toyota was at least profitable. And while the U.S. and Europe are sluggish for the company, it's selling cars hand over fist in places like Russia, Australia, and the Middle East.

While Toyota is tooling up for increased Prius production, its Japanese neighbor Nissan (NASDAQ:NSANY) has said it'll focus more on electric vehicles for its green strategy. As a Nissan executive said this week, hybrids are on the verge of becoming so commonplace that their status-symbol aura will be fleeting.

So the world is changing rapidly Fools, and our vaunted "wheels" are likely to become radically different in the years ahead. For now, things are generally in disarray, and that's a good reason not to pick up automaker shares for now.

Toyota has been accessorized with a four-star rating by Motley Fool CAPS players. Would you be inclined to find another gear for the company?

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does welcome your comments or questions. Nissan is a Motley Fool Global Gains stock recommendation. The Motley Fool has a well-tuned disclosure policy.