LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And Im Renee Montagne. It's a tough time to be a Toyota executive, what with congressional testimony and class action suits. It's a surprisingly good time to be a Toyota dealer. Sales jumped this month and market share is back up to what it was before the gas pedal recall.
NPR's Chris Arnold has been following a Toyota dealership in Boston.
CHRIS ARNOLD: Over the past two weeks, Toyota's gotten more aggressive with its incentives and special deals. Sales had been down with all the gas pedal recall news. Cars were piling up at dealerships. And now, as they say in the car business, Toyota wants to move the metal - meaning they want to sell a lot of those cars.
Mr. ROBERT BOCH (Owner, Expressway Toyota): Right now, that pendulum of can I get a good deal or not get a good deal is way over on the customer's side, saying I can get a good deal.
ARNOLD: Robert Boch runs Expressway Toyota with his brother. In the front of the showroom, theyve got all the specials written out in purple marker on a whiteboard. The price for leasing a Prius has now been cut nearly in half to $179 a month. And there's zero percent financing on just about all the most popular Toyota cars.
Mr. BOCH: And trucks as well too. The best incentive we have, we made a deal with a customer the other day, zero percent financing on a Tundra. The gentleman financed approximately $40,000 on that truck. He saved $5,775 just on the interest.
ARNOLD: And he got another $4,000 off the sticker price. Deals like that are definitely getting people into the dealership again.
Mr. BOCH: We're on pace this month to sell about 125 new Toyotas.
ARNOLD: That's nearly a 70 percent increase in sales over last month. Edmunds.com, which tracks the auto industry, just came out with its latest nationwide dealer survey that shows a sharp rebound in Toyota sales so far in March, back up to the same market share Toyota had before the gas pedal recall.
But that's not to say that things are back to normal. Toyota's throwing a lot of money at people to get them to buy cars. And some Toyota customers are still worried about their cars speeding out of control, even though the odds of that happening on any given car are extremely low.
Ms. CHRISTINE GEORGE: It makes me a little nervous. I've been following it.
ARNOLD: Christine George is pushing her toddler around the showroom in a stroller. She's come in to get the oil changed in her '08 Highlander.
Ms. GEORGE: I bought it because I have three kids. I needed a third-row seat. I almost bought the Honda and I was like, jeez, you know, maybe I should have bought that Honda.
ARNOLD: Some Toyota owners around the country have actually gotten so worried that they've rushed out and traded in their cars and bought one from a different carmaker. But a lot of the people here at this dealership actually dont really seem too concerned.
Ms. ELAINE CHOI (Restaurant Owner): I said my husband has Toyota Foreigner.
ARNOLD: Elaine Choi and her husband own a Chinese restaurant, the Imperial Terrace in Quincy, Massachusetts. She's also brought in her car for an oil change.
And does it scare you at all, any of the Toyota stuff?
Ms. CHOI: It's not a big deal, I think. I just have two co-workers in my restaurant; they just bought a Toyota Camry. It's a beautiful car, you know, and very comfortable.
ARNOLD: It turns out two cooks at her restaurant heard about the zero percent financing and they each came in and bought new Toyotas for around $20,000.
And were they excited and happy, you know, when they...
Ms. CHOI: Oh, they were excited because one of them is a new immigrant so he bought a first car, it's Toyota Camry.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CHOI: Yeah, he's happy over that.
ARNOLD: Across the showroom, Carol Brown has come in to shop for a Toyota.
Ms. CAROL BROWN: If Toyota was all that bad, why are all these people still coming in to shop, you know?
ARNOLD: Of course, there's always a chance that investigators will find some major new problems with, say, Toyota's electronics. But for now, with sales up again, the dealership owner here Robert Boch, is getting some of his car dealer swagger back. He says Toyota has been very profitable in recent years. It's still sitting on a mountain of cash that it could spend on incentives, and he says it's making good cars.
Mr. BOCH: You take five billion out of Toyota's war chest. Well, guess what? They got another $28 billion and say, come on, let's go back to the marketplace and play.
ARNOLD: Analysts do say, though, that Toyota is not out of the woods here. It still has plenty of work to do to reassure many potential car buyers that it really has figured out and fixed its problems with unintended acceleration.
Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.
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