Tainted by recalls, Toyota addressed its sales slump by introducing cut-rate financing and special lease offers. It regained its footing in March, helped along by robust Prius sales.
For customers, the offer of big bargains outweighed concerns about "unintended acceleration" in a range of Toyota models and a Prius recall for brake problems.
The Prius has long been the top-selling gas-electric car made by any manufacturer. It is also a hybrid that has recently ranked among the auto industry's 10 best-selling cars. For much of 2009, it enjoyed the No. 10 spot on Ward's Automotive list.
As recall concerns rose to a crescendo early this year, however, Toyota saw a sharp drop-off in sales traffic. In February, the company's sales were down 9 percent from year-before levels, and Prius sales sagged below 8,000 (at least 20 percent below the typical level).
By comparison, the incentive-fueled March sales roared like a lion. Prius sales reached 11,786 units, up 27 percent over March 2009. Overall, Toyota sold nearly 187,000 vehicles, up 41 percent from the same period a year earlier.
"Toyota’s strong sales performance in March reflects our customers’ continued confidence in the safety and reliability of our vehicles and their trust in the brand,” Don Esmond, a senior vice president at Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., said in a statement Thursday.