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Toyota incentives rouse would-be buyers

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Toyota's new incentive plan appears to have piqued the interest of buyers looking to snag a good deal, reports showed Thursday, even as the automaker's recall woes linger.

Edmunds.com and kbb.com, Web site of Kelly Blue Book, both reported significant increases in traffic among users expressing serious interest in Toyota vehicles since the automaker announced a new incentive plan on Tuesday.

"Purchase intent" for Toyota vehicles surged 40% to a 14-month high Tuesday, according to Edmunds.com. Purchase intent measures pricing research done by potential buyers on its site. Edmunds said there is a "strong correlation" between purchase intent and actual sales.

"Because of the Toyota recall, people have been closely watching the company's moves," David Tompkins, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com, said in a statement. "Many were ready to take action upon hearing the announcement of this highly-anticipated incentives program."

According to its own research, Kelly Blue Book said shopper activity for Toyota cars from Tuesday to Thursday rose 44% this week versus the same period last week. Shopper activity includes car configuration, which the Kelly Blue Book gauges as an accurate indicator of buyer intent.

A Toyota representative stressed that it's too soon to say anything conclusive about the incentives. However the representative added that there is some "anecdotal evidence" to suggest that showroom traffic is increasing: "We are cautiously optimistic."

Toyota is offering 0% financing for as long as 60 months on eight of its most popular models, including the Avalon, Camry and Corolla. Customers are also being offered low-payment lease deals on these models.

The incentives are aimed at reviving sales following a massive recall campaign for problems related to sudden acceleration, which have been blamed for a number of accidents resulting in death or injury.

Toyota has repeatedly apologized for the safety lapses and technicians are working extended hours to service the recalled vehicles.

Analysts said many potential Toyota buyers had postponed purchases in anticipation of incentives.

In January, Toyota's purchase intent averaged just over 13% and then fell to a low of 9.7% as a result of the recall announcements, according to Edmunds.com.

On Monday, the day before the incentives were announced, Toyota purchase intent had recovered to 13%. It then jumped to 18% the following day when the incentives were made public.

The uptick in interest is a rare bit of good news for the beleaguered automaker and is an early indication that Toyota sales could bounce back from their recent slump.

Toyota sales dropped 9% last month compared with a year ago, even as Ford sales jumped 43% and General Motors' climbed 12%. Toyota estimates it lost about 18,000 sales last month due to the recalls.

"The Toyota recall saga allowed other automakers to snag some market share, and now Toyota wants it back," said George Kang, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com in a statement. "Despite their ongoing challenges, the company still has plenty of brand strength and consumer confidence."  To top of page

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