TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp's president said on Monday he believed that sales in North America could recover in March after a sharp decline last month when the automaker suspended sales of some recalled models.
I think it's possible (for sales to recover), Akio Toyoda told reporters after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
We are taking steps simultaneously for repairs and a sales recovery. The local staff are working hard at this, he said.
Toyota's sales in the United States, its biggest market, dropped almost 9 percent in February while rivals such as Ford Motor and General Motors gained ground.
A safety crisis that has led to a recall of some 8.5 million Toyota vehicles globally has damaged Toyota's reputation and kept U.S. dealers from selling some models in inventory through early February until fixes could be made.
To battle the fall-off in its sales, Toyota is looking to win over consumers with unprecedented discounts including zero-percent financing for five years on top-selling models such as the Camry. It will also offer attractive leasing terms and free maintenance for two years for returning Toyota customers.
Looking to put the recall crisis behind him, Toyoda has apologized to the public in the United States, Japan and China -- Toyota's three biggest markets -- over the last month in the hope of regaining consumers' confidence.
Toyoda said he reported to Hatoyama about his testimony at a U.S. congressional hearing about the safety issues last month and his visit to China to address the public.
Toyota also said it would offer a webcast presentation on Monday to shoot down a key committee witness's demonstration suggesting that the electronic throttle could be responsible for unintended acceleration on Toyota's cars.
The witness, David Gilbert, a professor of auto technology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, has been retained by a safety advocate working with trial lawyers.
This presentation will show that the sequence and nature of manipulated faults in the Gilbert demonstration are completely unrealistic under real-world conditions and can easily be reproduced on a wide range of vehicles made by other manufacturers, Toyota said in a statement.
Toyoda also met on Monday with Transport Minister Seiji Maehara, who said he was arranging a U.S. visit in May to meet with his counterpart, Transport Secretary Ray LaHood.
While the main topic of their discussion would be the planned development of a high-speed rail system in the United States, Maehara said he believed Toyota's safety crisis would naturally come up.
Toyoda is also due to meet Trade Minister Masayuki Naoshima and Consumer Affairs Minister Mizuho Fukushima later on Monday.
(Editing by Chris Gallagher)