February 15, 2010 / 8:24 AM / 8 years ago

Toyota plans competitive sales incentives for March

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp is planning an aggressive incentive program for March to lure U.S. consumers sidelined by a damaging product safety crisis, executives said on Monday.

The world’s largest automaker, reeling from the largest recall in its history, said most of the vehicles at its U.S. showrooms have been repaired and are back for sale, adding it is evaluating a range of options to support next month’s sales.

“We are studying everything,” U.S. sales chief Bob Carter told reporters after a meeting with nearly 300 Toyota dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention. “All are under evaluation.”

Don Esmond, senior vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said Toyota will be as aggressive as needed to help dealers keep existing customers and attract new ones.

“We’ll figure what the right cruise missile will be,” said Esmond.

But the executives said the company had yet to make decisions on the new marketing push and declined to elaborate on the options being considered.

A source briefed on the company’s still-developing plans said Toyota is considering offering a $1,000 rebate in addition to the current $1,000 in cash incentives for returning Toyota customers.

Toyota’s current $1,000 in “loyalty” bonus matches incentives offered by General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Chrysler and Hyundai Motor Co to lure Toyota customers.

Other options Toyota is considering include a free maintenance program -- such as oil changes and regular services -- and a new warranty program that at least matches Hyundai’s market-leading 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the source said.

The executives said most of Toyota’s inventory of 131,000 vehicles involved in the recall have had their pedals repaired and by the end of February, almost all of them will be back in showrooms.

“We made some mistakes,” said Carter. “But customers look for how you address the mistakes. We are doing what is needed to make that right.”

Toyota’s U.S. sales dropped 16 percent in January to the lowest level in more than a decade after it suspended sales of about half of its inventory of vehicles including the popular Camry and Corolla sedans, due to safety recalls over potentially sticky accelerator pedals.

Overall U.S. industry sales were up 6 percent last month.

U.S. auto sales are tracking at about 10.7 million to 10.8 million units on the annualized rate in February, Carter said. Toyota’s sales will be down in February, he said but added its share of the U.S. market was “holding up” and “stable” despite the recall crisis.

Toyota, No. 2 in U.S. sales behind GM, saw its U.S. market share fall to 14 percent in January -- its lowest level since January 2006 -- from 17 percent for full-year 2009.

Toyota has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles globally due to the risk that sticky accelerator pedals or loose floor mats may result in unintended acceleration.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is reviewing consumer complaints that unintended acceleration problems may be linked to Toyota’s electronic “drive-by-wire” throttle system. Toyota has ruled that out as a cause of the problem.

Carter repeated that Toyota has found no problem with its electronic throttle system after testing every possible scenario “exhaustively.”

Toyota said it has retained engineering and scientific consulting firm Exponent to analyze its electronics control system for concerns related to unintended acceleration.

An interim, first-phase report dated February 4 found that Exponent was unable to induce unintended acceleration in any of the Toyota and Lexus vehicles it tested, Toyota said.

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