Toyota has immediate concerns to address in the U.S.

(March 8, 2011) SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Toyota's "Global Vision" conference this Wednesday promises to set the tone for the Japanese automaker's worldwide direction in the next decade. But's analysis shows that Toyota has much more immediate concerns to address — at least here in the United States.

In 2010, reported that Toyota was the only major automaker with a drop in overall U.S. sales (-0.3%), falling from #2 to #3 in U.S. market share. On top of that, consideration for Toyota vehicles in 2010 on was down about 3.8 percentage points year over year.

The trend has continued so far in 2011, with Toyota trailing both GM and Ford in both sales and market share, and consideration for the brand on down one percentage point year over year.

Still haunting Toyota are its perceived safety and quality issues. When the U.S. Department of Transportation said last month that no electronic flaws caused Toyota's unintended acceleration problems, many thought it would be an opportunity for Toyota to re-gain its momentum in the U.S. market.

But that hope was quickly interrupted two weeks later when Toyota recalled over two million vehicles in the U.S. to address potential floor mat interference with accelerator pedals. Many of the recalled models included Toyota's Lexus line, which further threatened the brand's already precarious spot at the top of the U.S. luxury auto sales race.

But as easy as it is to blame factors relating to its recalls, analysts see another pressing concern for Toyota.

"Toyota needs to overcome not just the PR damage sustained by the recalls, but also the reality that many of its models are stale," said Jessica Caldwell, director of pricing and industry analysis.

"In the last few years Toyota's lineup has remained relatively untouched compared to the changes its top competitors have made to their fleets. In today's competitive marketplace, updating the product line is more important than ever, especially as most new car buyers cross-shop online without much product loyalty, and many dismiss the cars that are lacking desirable new technology features."

Earlier this year, Edmunds' reported that Toyota (including Lexus and Scion) plans to release 11 new or redesigned models in 2011. Updates to the Camry and RAV4 — two of Toyota's traditional top sellers — are expected to be included in the 2011 Toyota redesigns.

As Toyota's fiscal year comes to a close at the end of this month, there is some good news for Toyota's recovery. Industry-wide sales in the U.S. are rising sharply and Toyota reported year-over-year sales increase of 42 percent in February (a number surely influenced by Toyota's decision last year to pull eight models from lots in the days after it announced its recalls). Combined Camry and Camry Hybrid sales totaled 64 percent higher than a year earlier and Corolla sales were 52 percent better.

As a result Edmunds' reports Toyota is raising its forecasts for the year to an operating profit of $6.4 billion rather than the $4.5 billion originally forecast. It's still far down from the massive $19.9 billion profit it posted in 2007-08, but at least it's moving in the right direction.

Read a preview of Toyota's "Global Vision" conference this week can be found at Edmunds' Auto