Toyota Wants Its Buyers Back

Toyota Wants Its Buyers Back
Toyota said sales fell 8.5% in February, a relatively modest number given massive publicty around its 5.5 million recalls, and executives announced sales incentives aimed at winning customers back.

The principal incentives are 0% financing for 60 months and, for existing Toyota owners, free maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles. In addition, Toyota unveiled a major marketing campaign on Tuesday.

On a sales call with reporters, Bob Carter, general manager of the Toyota division in North America, said the campaign will be "unprecedented" but declined to provide its cost.

As Toyota sales slumped, most other automakers reported gains, led by a 43% increase at Ford. General Motors reported an 11.5% increase. Total U.S. sales rose 13%, according to Automotive News.

Toyota brand sales fell 10.6% in February, while Lexus brand sales fell 5.2%. Among the two top-selling Toyota models, Corolla sales fell 6.1% to 16,996, while Camry sales fell 19.8% to 16,552.

"Given all the challenges we faced in February, frankly, I'm surprised that we sold as many cars as we did," Carter said.

Beyond Toyota's problems related to sticky accelerators and impairment by floor mats, Carter noted that "winter storms closed many dealerships on the East Coast for the better part of two weeks," and many people delayed buying Toyotas as they anticipated March sales promotions. He said "we haven't seen any major outflow of Toyota owners to other brands," and resale values have not declined significantly, despite early reports to the contrary.

Carter said winter storms probably cost Toyota about 30,000 sales, while another 18,000 were lost due to suspended sales of several popular models as the automaker sought to devise a fix to the accelerator problems. However, the last weekend of the month "was a very good weekend for us, outside of the Northeast," Carter said. In March, he said, Toyota will return its focus to selling cars.

While Toyota was losing sales, U.S. automakers were reluctant to say they were taking sales from the company. On the Ford sales call, Ken Czubay declared that "our studies show many Toyota buyers were still undecided as to what they were going to do."

Although he said industry numbers on "conquests" or sales to owners of other brands had not yet been tabulated, he noted that the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan both benefited. Overall, Fusion sales rose 117% to 16,459, making it Ford's top-selling car, while Milan sales rose 100% to 2,675.

On the General Motors call, Susan Docherty, vice president of sales and marketing, said Chevrolet lured some Toyota buyers. "We feel we're getting our fair share of the Toyota business," Docherty said.

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. .

2:19 AM

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