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Toyota sales rebounding

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Toyota sales rebounding

Zero percent financing, free maintenance, other incentives are drawing buyers in, dealers say

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

Toyota Motor Corp.'s sales are picking up after the Japanese automaker boosted incentives to contain the damage from two big recalls and continuous reports of Toyota vehicles with problems.

"Right now, it would appear we're tracking substantially over last month, and substantially over a year ago," said Don Esmond, senior vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

He is meeting today in Troy with area dealers, as part of a trip to reassure and thank the company's dealers and suppliers.

Dealers who sell Toyota's cars as well as parts suppliers have been buffeted by the effects of the company's recalls, including weeklong halts in sales and production in the U.S. of some models.

"We try to reassure them that we may have stumbled for a couple of months, but it's time to get back to business," Esmond said in an interview.

Esmond is likely to get a positive reception from dealers now that Toyota has turned on the spigot and is offering incentives such as zero percent financing for five years and attractive lease rates.

In addition, returning Toyota customers will receive two years of free maintenance as part of the deals on offer until April 5.

Some dealers will press the company to maintain the incentives for more than a month, which would turn up the pricing pressure on Toyota's rivals in the market.

"I'm going to say, keep the incentives on, and keep them very strong," said Bob Page, owner of Page Toyota in Southfield.

"It'll stop people from saying, 'Oh, their sales are down, their brand is bruised,' " Page said.

Rosario Criscuolo, owner of Toyota and Lexus stores in Lansing and Ann Arbor, said business picked up sharply after Toyota posted the incentives last week.

"We're trying to hire sales people to handle the customers," Criscuolo said. "It's like cash-for-clunkers for us right now."

He said Toyota appears to be keeping its customers. "If we're losing business, it's people who are on the fence."

Criscuolo said he would like to see Toyota extend the warranties it offers on Lexus models -- bumper-to-bumper protection for 48 months or 50,000 miles -- to all Toyota cars and trucks as a sign of confidence in their quality.

According to auto research site Edmunds.com, the percentage of active shoppers seriously considering Toyota-brand vehicles fell from 13.5 percent to 10 percent after the automaker's Jan. 21 recall to fix sticking pedals -- its second big recall.

That percentage recovered to 13 percent, then spiked to 18 percent after the rebates were announced.



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