* Toyota early May U.S. retail sales down 12 pct from Apr
* GM U.S. retail early May sales up 9 pct
* Lexus U.S. sales up 22 pct, Toyota brand down 17 pct
* Impact of Toyota buyer incentives is waning
DETROIT, May 20 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp’s (7203.T) sales fell in early May from April as hefty buyer incentives started in March are losing their impact, Edmunds.com said on Thursday.
Retail sales for Toyota in early May are down 12 percent, Edmunds said.
“We’re noticing that Toyota’s incentive program is starting to fall on deaf ears since most of the people who were open to getting deals from the automaker already made their purchases,” said Edmunds.com analyst Jessica Caldwell. “Our Toyota cross-shopping data indicates that the brand has not yet recovered from recent image problems.”
Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, is performing better, Edmunds said. Its early May sales are up 22 percent from April while Toyota-brand sales are down 17 percent from last month’s sales, Edmunds said.
General Motors Co [GM.UL] sales for early May show a rise of 9 percent from April, Edmunds said.
Compared with the industrywide low figures from May 2009, Toyota sales in May are running 22 percent higher and GM’s 24 percent higher, Edmunds said.
The figures are for retail sales and do not include fleet sales.
Total sales for May including fleet transactions are forecast by CNW Research to reach 1.1 million vehicles.
Earlier on Thursday, J.D. Power and Associates forecast that May total U.S. light vehicle sales would be 1.08 million vehicles, or about 11.2 million on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis.
J.D. Power said that May retail sales are down about 6 percent from April.
A CNW columnist suggested that GM sales are being inflated by a push to sell fleet vehicles.
GM’s fleet sales for the first three months of 2010 more than doubled from the first quarter of 2009, CNW reported, to 148,000 from 70,000.
Fleet sales at GM were 31 percent of the automaker’s overall sales total for the first three months of 2010, up from 17 percent of its sales in the first quarter of 2009.
All major automakers in the U.S. market responded with hefty incentives after Toyota introduced them in March. The March incentives were the most ever offered by Toyota, which was reacting to decreased sales in January and February caused by safety recalls and a sales suspension of some of its top-selling cars. Toyota has not said whether the level of its incentives will continue into summer. (Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)