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Toyota Dealerships Get Desperate

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The beleaguered auto seller pulls out all stops to move its merchandise.

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A news report today painted a bleak picture of the current situation at Toyota (TM) dealerships.

In addition to the 8 million already-recalled RAV4 crossovers, Corollas, Matrix hatchbacks, Avalons, Camrys, Highlander crossovers, Tundra pickups, and 2008-10 Sequoia SUVs, Toyota plans to recall about 300,000 Prius hybrids worldwide over a brake problem caused by a software glitch.

Faced with a public fearful of driving automobiles with non-functioning brakes, Toyota sales managers are ratcheting up the hard-sell to stratospheric levels.

According to valuations announced by Edmonds.com, a number of Toyota models have lost 10% of their value since the recall.

Atlantic Toyota in Amityville, Long Island, is offering beauty treatments to owners of recalled cars while their repairs are underway.

"They said to me, 'You can get a manicure,' " Roseanne Letizia told the New York Post (NWS). "It is the first time I ever got a manicure at a car dealership.

One Southern California Toyota dealer is offering owners two complimentary movie tickets with a parts or service purchase over $89.99.

"This is a desperate act by a company trying to get ahead of a problem that's already spun out of control," said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies.

Toyota is rightfully fearful. Analysts are likening Toyota's problems to Audi's "lost generation," when the company was almost sunk by an unintended acceleration scare that turned out to be just that -- a scare over a "flaw" that never existed.

And Ford's (F) best-selling Explorer SUV's reputation -- and sales -- never rebounded after the Firestone (a Bridgestone (TYO) subsidiary) tires the vehicles were sold with blew out, causing a large number of injuries and deaths.

A handful of calls placed to Toyota dealerships highlighted just how desperate they are to move cars off their lots.

The sales manager at Toyota of Manhattan, the country's largest Prius dealer, offered a lease on a base-model Prius with a standard options package for $1,000 down and payments of $199 a month, with 12,000 miles per year allowed and an interest rate of 3%. That's down from payments of $260 a month and 6.5% interest.

"We've never offered incentives on the Prius before," he said. "We're getting very aggressive."

Similar deals were being offered by other area dealers, like Bay Ridge Toyota in Brooklyn and Hudson Toyota in Jersey City.

Bob Dowling, writing on HuffingtonPost.com, reports that "the easy days for [Toyota's] legendary arrogant American dealers are, at least, temporarily over."

"Do you wish to order one?" was the response he got when he requested a Prius test drive in 2007.

"I'd like to drive one first," he recalls telling the dealer.

"That would be a month from now at 9.30 am. If you're late you'll miss the opportunity," was the answer.

No more waiting lists, no more haughty dealers acting as if you'd be lucky to get behind the wheel of a Prius, no more set-in-stone prices well above MSRP.

If you don't mind a little brake failure and unintended acceleration, now might be the best time ever to put yourself in a brand-new Toyota.
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