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Toyota sales rise 40 percent in March on incentives

NEW YORK — Toyota's sales surged 40 percent in March as the automaker offered its biggest incentives ever to cope with the fallout of millions of recalls.

Toyota rolled out the incentives in early March, including 0 percent financing on recalled models, low-priced leasing and free maintenance. The incentives aimed to draw in customers even as Toyota grappled with recalls of more than 8 million cars and trucks around the world. Those recalls, which began in October and expanded in later months, were to fix gas pedal flaws tied to unintended acceleration in some of the company's top sellers, including the Camry.

"Many more retail consumers are going to be buying Toyotas in the month of March than any other brand," Toyota Group vice president Bob Carter said in an interview with the Associated Press at the New York International Auto Show, which kicked off with media previews on Wednesday.

Automakers are scheduled to report March U.S. sales today. Toyota's sales fell 9 percent in February while the broader industry's climbed 13 percent.

If Carter's forecast holds true for March, it means the Japanese automaker sold as many as 186,000 car and trucks in the United States, up from about 133,000 a year earlier. While that improvement would be significant, last March ranked as one of the weakest months ever for automakers.

Still, Toyota's surge likely outpaced the industry. Sales of new vehicles as a whole climbed 23 percent in March, according to market research firm J.D. Power and Associates.

Toyota's incentives are supposed to end Monday, but Carter said some will continue into the spring, including free maintenance for returning customers.

One big seller in March was the RAV4, a small SUV. Sales more than tripled from February to about 24,000, Carter said. They got a boost from trade-ins from rival automakers and brisk business from young families, who are drawn to the vehicle for its blend of space and fuel economy.

Carter said "a small percentage" of Toyota's March sales rise was due to customers who would have bought Toyotas in later months. A large number of buyers remain "on the fence" about buying Toyotas and will make their purchase once the media frenzy over quality dies down.

Toyota had a subdued presence at the New York Auto Show, which opens to the public Friday. Toyota and Lexus held no press conferences and offered no vehicle debuts. Its Scion brand, however, unveiled a production model of the iQ minicar and a redesigned tC coupe.

The iQ is geared toward urban dwellers and is already sold in Europe and Japan as a Toyota-badged vehicle. It goes on sale in the United States early next year. The tC goes on sale this fall.

Toyota sales rise 40 percent in March on incentives 03/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 11:09pm]
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