BNEW YORK (AP) — Toyota's sales surged 40 percent in March, a top company executive said today, 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 on Thursday. 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 U.S., 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
Toyota's incentives are supposed to end April 5, but Carter said some will continue into the spring, including free maintenance for returning Toyota customers. He said Toyota would give updates on its incentive programs on Monday, but added that any changes would be small.
"They're working very well," he said.
One big seller in March was the RAV4 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.
He said Toyota dealers have repaired about 2 million recalled cars and trucks in the U.S. Dealers are fixing about 50,000 vehicles a day by adding metal shims to the accelerators and shaving down pedals to prevent them from sticking or getting trapped under floor mats.
Carter welcomed government investigations into any ties between electronics in Toyota vehicles and cases of unintended acceleration.
Toyota has repeatedly denied that its electronics are to blame for unintended acceleration, blaming mechanical causes.
Toyota had a subdued presence at the New York Auto Show, which opens to the public on Friday. Toyota and Lexus held no press conferences and offered no vehicle debuts. However, its Scion brand 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 U.S. early next year. The tC goes on sale this fall.