Toyota Sales -- and the Industry's -- Are Rebounding in March

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Despite Toyota Motor's (TM) recall woes, sales so far this month are on a roll, thanks largely to generous incentives aimed at improving foot traffic in showrooms. Industry data show sales surged 50% during the first eight days of March compared to a year ago, boosted by 0% interest rate financing and other incentives.

Auto industry tracker Edmunds.com predicts that when the monthly books are closed, Toyota's sales will be up 30% for the month compared to last March. Toyota's daily retail sales rate during the first eight days of the month was 47% higher than last March and 71% higher than February, Edmund's analysis of sales data showed.

As important, Toyota regained significant ground in its share of the U.S. retail market. It's running at about 16.8% in early March, compared to just 12.8% last month, its lowest level since 2006, Edmunds said. Toyota's market share is also up compared to March 2009, when it garnered 15.2% of retail sales.

"Support and Loyalty"

Despite the recall of some 8.5 million vehicles worldwide, including more than 6 million in the U.S., Toyotas are still attractive to consumers looking for a deal, says University of Miami business professor Chester Schriesheim. "These are the people who are undecided about the brand but given the lower price, now that provides incentives to go ahead and purchase," he told Reuters. "But they're going to exhaust that pool of individuals and then they'll find it harder in the longer term to raise the prices backward."

Based on the first eight sales days in March, Edmunds said the seasonally adjusted annual rate of U.S. sales climbed to 12.5 million units, the highest level since September 2008, excluding last August, when the federal government's cash-for-clunkers program was in full swing.

That means Toyota wasn't the only company to see higher sales in early March. General Motor's Chevrolet, which has matched Toyota's zero-interest financing on some models, saw its market share climb to 12.9%, up from 11.4% a year ago and 11.3% last month, Edmunds said. Ford Motor (F), which saw its sales spike in February to surpass not only those of Toyota but GM, too, saw its market share slip in early March to 11.7%, compared to 12.4% a year ago and 12.5% last month. That's in spite of expanded incentives to counter Toyota's.

"Black Boxes" Coming to Cars

Honda Motor (HMC) didn't gain on Toyota either in early March. The Japanese carmaker's U.S. market share slipped to 9.2% in early March, compared 11.2% a year ago and 10.4% last month, according to Edmunds' analysis. Honda, which had publicly said it wouldn't try to capitalize on Toyota's woes, is offering some good deals but not a comprehensive incentives campaign.

In other auto industry news, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the regulator is considering whether to make "black boxes" mandatory for all new vehicles. The devices can capture data on speed, braking effort and other details that can be vital in reconstructing accidents, including those involving unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, which NHTSA has blamed for more than 50 deaths.
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