Toyota to keep US sales incentives through June 1

Mon May 3, 2010 4:46pm EDT

* Toyota extending record discounts until at least June 1

* Toyota sales up 12 percent so far in 2010

* Toyota sees continued slow recovery for U.S. auto sales

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT, May 3 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) (TM.N) is extending heavy discounts to boost U.S. auto sales for a third month, U.S. Toyota executives said on Monday, as the automaker tries to recover from a series of damaging safety recalls.

The company's record incentives, which will now continue through at least June 1, include zero-percent financing for seven models including its top-selling Camry and Corolla sedans and two years of free maintenance to all new buyers.

"Our brand has taken some bruises over the last couple of months," Bob Carter, group vice president responsible for Toyota brand U.S. sales, said in a conference call as the carmaker reported higher April U.S. sales. [ID:nN03209439]

"We've got to rebuild the brand to remove any cautions consumers have," Carter said. "We're going to do what it takes to keep ourselves competitive in an improving but challenging market."

Toyota's April U.S. sales rose 24 percent from a year earlier, helped by incentives "that continue to be a home run for our consumers," Carter said.

In the first four months of the year, Toyota's sales were up about 12 percent from a year ago when the industry had its lowest sales mark since the early 1980s.

Toyota was No. 3 in U.S. auto sales in April at 157,439 vehicles sold, behind General Motors Co [GM.UL] at 183,091 and Ford Motor Co (F.N) at 167,542. [ID:nN03209439]

The Japanese automaker's sales fell in January and February as the world's biggest automaker was forced to stop production of about half of its lineup and as more than 8 million vehicles were recalled for safety issues.

Incentives have since helped boost sales in March and April, but Carter admitted that Toyota has work to do to dispel negative images of the carmaker's product line, which was thought to be among the most reliable in the industry before the recall woes.

According to industry tracking firm Edmunds.com, Toyota's incentives hit record levels for the automaker in March, near $2,750 per vehicle, and slipped slightly in April to $2,500 per vehicle sold. The industry average for April, Edmunds said, was about $2,650 per vehicle.

"Toyota continues to buy its market share," said Aaron Bragman of IHS Global Insight.

Carter said that in the short term, Toyota will keep the incentives near current rates, but longer term, the company will go back to its low incentives. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall, editing by Matthew Lewis)