Surging Ford outsells rival GM
By SHARON SILKE CARTY
DETROIT — The top 10 automakers in U.S. sales reported gains in February, despite massive Midwest and East Coast snowfalls, with one notable exception: Toyota.
Normally a sales stalwart able to beat the industry average in any given month, Toyota saw sales drop 8.7 percent in February compared with a year ago. February was the first full sales month since Toyota's sudden-acceleration recall troubles began grabbing headlines in earnest about 40 days ago.
Another February surprise: Ford Motor outsold crosstown rival General Motors for the month, the first time that's happened since 1998 when a strike at a GM supplier choked sales. Ford had the biggest percentage gain — up 43 percent — among the major automakers, which was worth about 500 more vehicles sold than GM.
Toyota wasn't focused on preserving sales in February, says Bob Carter, group vice president of U.S. sales. Dealers and executives were instead focused on making sure customers were able to get recall repairs done promptly, he says.
Toyota guesses it lost about 18,000 sales — about 18 percent of February expectations — due to recall news. The losses were mostly among shoppers who haven't owned a Toyota before, Carter says.
Sales are back in focus for March: The carmaker announced a big new incentive effort offering customers either a 0 percent loan for 60 months or a low-cost lease on popular Toyota models: Camry, Corolla, Matrix, Prius and Yaris cars; Venza, RAV4 and Highlander utility vehicles; and Tundra pickups. Buyers who already own a Toyota and buy another one get two years of free maintenance on the new one.
Other automakers will be looking to capitalize on Toyota's problems, but Ford says it doesn't know how many of its buyers would have otherwise purchased a Toyota.
"Frankly, our studies show that many of the Toyota buyers were still undecided as to what they were going to do," says Ken Czubay, Ford's vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service.
GM says it doesn't know how many Toyota customers it converted, but chief market analyst Michael DiGiovanni said it got its "fair share of Toyota sales."
Despite being beaten by a nose in the monthly totals, GM sales were up 12 percent.