Toyota recalls hurt its sales, but Ford and others gain

Toyota recalls, investigations, and congressional hearings hurt the company and buoyed sales results of Honda, Ford, Hyundai, and others. But it could have been worse.

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    Last month, this 2010 Toyota Prius was for sale at an Englewood, Colo., Toyota dealership. Toyota said Tuesday its US sales fell 9 percent in February, reflecting the fallout from widespread recalls and a temporary sales halt.
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Recalls of some of its best-selling cars. Congressional hearings and federal investigations into safety problems. Problems with accelerators, brakes, and possibly with steering systems and lawsuits stemming from them.

Yes, it's been a horrific February for Toyota.

So when the world's largest automaker announced Tuesday that it sold just over 100,000 vehicles in the United States in February, down 8.7 percent from the same period a year ago, the immediate industry reaction was: It could have been worse.

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"They still sold 100,000 units," said Jessica Caldwell, senior industry analyst at Edmunds.com, in a conference call with reporters. "They're still the third best-selling automaker in February."

Several competitors gained as a result of Toyota's troubles. Honda was a big winner, with US sales up 12.7 percent in February over a year ago. Ford also gained, with sales jumping an enormous 43 percent last month. Ford outsold General Motors in February to become the best-selling automaker in the US for the first time in 12 years.

But Ford played down the Toyota effect.

"There's a little leakage" from Toyota, George Pipas, Ford's sales analyst, told CNBC Tuesday. But "the increase that we saw this year was not a Toyota thing. It was a Ford product thing that we've seen for the last year and a half."

Hyundai was also a winner, probably with help from Toyota, Ms. Caldwell said. Its sales rose 11 percent last month over the same period a year ago. Even Chrysler, which saw only a small gain from a year ago, managed to improve fleet sales, perhaps taking away sales from Toyota, she added.

Has Toyota endured the worst of its sales repercussions or will there be continued fallout? That's not yet known.

But Toyota is not taking its lumps lying down.

On Tuesday, it announced what it called its most far-reaching incentives program in its history: 0 percent financing for 60 months on some of its best-selling 2010 models. Those include the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, RAV4, Tundra, and Yaris.

General Motors and Chrysler quickly matched the offer with financing programs of their own.

Ford has not followed – not yet, anyway.

The incentives should boost sales as the industry swings into the traditionally strong spring selling season. The finance packages will add to the already substantial incentives offered last month: an average of just under $2,600 per vehicle, according to Edmunds.com.

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