Incentives seen boosting March U.S. auto sales image

Automakers are expected to post a sharp jump in March U.S. auto sales, supported by hefty incentives from Toyota Motor Corp as it looked to repair an image tarnished by vehicle recalls, analysts said.
Ford Motor Co and General Motors Co also are expected to be among the leaders in U.S. auto sales for March with the industry expected to report an overall increase of about 25 percent from a year earlier.
Toyota introduced high incentives early in March as it sought to jump-start sales after the safety recalls and sales halts a month earlier. Competitors quickly matched those incentives.

All of the top six selling automakers are expected to post sales increases in March from a year earlier except for Chrysler. Automakers report March U.S. sales on Thursday.

Most forecasters late in March expected U.S. auto sales of 12 million to 12.5 million vehicles in the seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) economists use, up from an anemic 9.7 million in March 2009.

“I think we could probably surpass a 13 million SAAR for the month,” analyst Erich Merkle said.

Merkle said March sales could be supported by Toyota’s incentives, plus pent-up demand from the U.S. recession and snowy weather in the Northeast during February that had hampered sales across the industry.