WASHINGTON - AutoNation Inc Chief Executive Mike Jackson said that Toyota Motor Corp's U.S. sales will recover by April, but only if the automaker offers customer incentives.

You know, the American people are a very forgiving and understanding people when someone makes a mistake and with Toyota's decades-long record of standing for quality and safety, I'm sure with a gesture that people will be ready to move forward and sales will recover, Jackson said.

Jackson spoke on Tuesday morning with Reuters Insider ahead of a U.S. congressional committee hearing on the automaker's current safety crisis.

He also said he remains confident in Toyota.

The leadership is there, Jackson said. Now, are these hearings appropriate? I think they are. Do there need to be lessons learned? Certainly there are. So we'll have to see how that unfolds. But the basic confidence in Toyota remains, both in its dealers and in its leaders.

February U.S. auto sales will be somewhere in the mid-10 (million) to 11 (million) range. Let's not forget that February of last year was the absolute bottom.

February 2009 sales were about 9.1 million units, on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis. That was the lowest monthly U.S. light-vehicle auto sales rate since December 1981. Toyota sales fell 16 percent in January, after it suspended sales of about half of its inventory of vehicles, including the popular Camry and Corolla sedans, due to safety recalls.

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)