TORONTO - Toyota is aiming its Canadian advertising dollars at reassuring existing customers worried by the company's recent safety woes, rather than winning new buyers, even though the move may hurt February sales numbers, a top Toyota Canada executive said on Thursday.

Toyota Motor Corp, the world's biggest auto maker, has been forced to recall more than 8.5 million vehicles globally after a string of safety-related concerns.

First it was floor mats trapping accelerators, then faulty accelerator mechanisms in some of its most popular models, followed by a braking problem in its 2010 Prius hybrids.

Now the company is scrambling to get repairs done and sales moving.

This is not business as usual, Stephen Beatty, managing director at Toyota Canada International, said in an interview.

Beatty had just finished giving the company's presentation for media day at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto.

Rather than kicking off with a glitzy video or showing off the company's latest model, Beatty began by acknowledging that Toyota had caused its customers a lot of concerns, and said it was doing everything possible to deal with the problems.

He later said that Toyota has ramped up its advertising spending, but on ads aimed at its existing customers, rather than at new ones.

The future of your brand is the people driving your cars today, not some potential customer out there, Beatty said.

He said he couldn't put a figure on the amount of new advertising spending, because it's not over and we'll do as much as we need to make sure that we have communicated with everybody that we need to.

The shift in advertising strategy could add to what looks likely to be a tough month for the company, but the focus is on the long-term, he said.

We haven't been advertising on retail messages right now. And will that have a short term impact on us in February? It may.

February is not traditionally a strong month for auto sales in Canada. March to June are generally seen as the make or break months, and Beatty said Toyota Canada would be ready.

There is a time for us to also return to business as usual and the practice of competing vigorously, and spring is the time for that to happen, he said.

That means restoring brand advertising and retail advertising, and making sure everybody knows that there are some exciting new vehicles coming into the showrooms.

Beatty said the problems in the recalled vehicles would be straightforward and rapid ones to fix, and added that Toyota dealers have the capacity to get all the 270,000 recalled vehicles in Canada repaired within a month.

(Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Rob Wilson)