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Toyota executive sees US March sales rising 40%

NEW YORK (AP) - Toyota's sales surged 40 percent in March, a top
company executive said Wednesday, 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
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 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.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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