* Edmunds, dealers say Toyota US sales surged in March
* Industry-wide sales seen near 12.5 mln sales rate
* Toyota dealer chief sees biggest boost post 'clunkers'
By Kevin Krolicki
DETROIT, March 11 Sales incentives, including
zero-percent financing offers, have boosted Toyota Motor Corp's
(7203.T) U.S. sales by nearly 50 percent in early March, an
industry tracking service and dealers said on Thursday.
Edmunds, which analyzes U.S. auto sales trends, said Toyota
sales were up 47 percent from a year earlier in the first eight
days of March.
Edmunds estimated that Toyota's U.S. retail market share in
early March had jumped to 16.8 percent, up sharply from 12.8
percent a month earlier, when safety recall problems had sent
Industrywide U.S. auto sales are tracking to hit a rate of
12.5 million vehicles in March because of the steep discounts
on Toyota vehicles and a competitive campaign launched by
General Motors Co [GM.UL].
GM is offering car shoppers rebates of up to $3,000 on
vehicles including the Malibu mid-size sedan, or zero-percent
Toyota, which has traditionally spurned such discount
programs in order to protect resale values, has offered up to
$3,000 in rebates and dealer incentives on a range of vehicles,
including its top-selling Camry, or cut-rate financing.
Both manufacturers are offering steeper discounts on their
competing full-size pickup trucks, GM's Chevy Silverado and GMC
Sierra and the Toyota Tundra.
Edmunds said GM's sales incentives lifted Chevy's retail
market share to 12.9 percent, up from 11.4 percent a month
Several major Toyota dealers said their own sales were
running slightly higher than the Edmunds estimate through
Tuesday. That would mark a sharp reversal from sales declines
in January and February tied to the automaker's recall crisis.
Paul Atkinson, president of the Toyota national dealer's
council and a Toyota dealer in Texas, said he expected that the
March sales boost from incentives would mirror what the
automaker saw during the 2009 "cash for clunkers" program.
Toyota was the big winner from that U.S. government-funded
scrappage program, which offered tax credits of up to $4,500 to
swap out of older and less fuel-efficient vehicles.
Toyota had a 19.4 percent share of vehicles sold under the
"clunkers" program that ran from late July through the third
week of August 2009. Toyota's share was the highest in the
"I truly believe that March could rival cash for clunkers,"
Sales at his own dealership were running at three times the
level of January and February in early March, he said.
Customers shopping for the bargains do not appear concerned by
Toyota's recalls, he said.
"Honestly, I think the public has had enough," he said.
Toyota has recalled 8 vehicles globally to address the risk
that accelerator pedals on a range of its vehicles could become
stuck because of a loose floor mat or a glitch in the pedal
Unintended acceleration in the company's Toyota and Lexus
vehicles has been linked to at least five U.S. crash deaths
since 2007. Authorities are investigating 47 other Toyota crash
deaths over the past decade.
Just this week, as Toyota sought to shift attention away
from the safety problems, at least three U.S. drivers reported
new cases of driving vehicles that appeared to surge out of
Atkinson has encouraged Toyota dealers to protest GM's
incentives in March, saying they amounted to a taxpayer-funded
program of discounts because the U.S. government funded GM's
restructuring in bankruptcy with $50 billion in aid.
"We just want a level playing field," he told Reuters.
"These GM incentives are kind of like using tax dollars to
encourage my fellow citizens to not do business with me."
GM has defended its use of incentives, saying such
discounts are a well-established part of the way cars are sold
in the U.S. market.
(Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)