Toyota: Can't forecast Tundra's year based on February sales

DETROIT (Reuters) -- Toyota Motor Corp. said on Thursday, that it sold 9,669 of its new Tundra full size pickup trucks in February, but cautioned it could be a few months before it could say whether the long-awaited vehicle would hit sales targets.

Tundra's debut has been closely watched because the lucrative pickup truck segment is the last still dominated by American carmakers.

Monthly sales results for February released on Thursday provided the first look at Toyota's success with its new and heavily promoted Tundra pickup truck.

Overall sales of Toyota's pickups, including Tundra, rose 1.6 percent for February.

Toyota expects to sell about 200,000 of its new full-size Tundras annually.

The Japanese automaker, which saw U.S. sales rise 12 percent in February, has called the launch of the pickup truck the biggest strategic bet in its history.

The new Tundras went on sale in the second week of February, and Toyota's U.S. sales chief Jim Lentz said the automaker was still ramping up production in the past month.

In addition, not all versions of the Tundra were available at dealerships in February, Lentz said.

It would be April or May before the company can assess the full impact of the truck launch, he said. "It will take that long to get the inventory," he added.

Lentz said the the Tundra CrewMax, the version of the truck offering the most cab space, was not expected to be available at dealerships until later this month.

Toyota also had only 12,000 of the new trucks in its inventory at the end of February and would like to beef up the stock to about 30,000 units, Lentz said.

Alex Rosten, an analyst with industry tracking service, noted that it was hard to draw conclusions from the initial Tundra sales since the truck only launched after the first weekend of February.

The launch of the Tundra, manufactured at a new $1.28-billion plant in San Antonio, Texas, comes at a time when the pickup truck market has been hurt by the slowdown in the U.S. housing sector which relies heavily on the use of such vehicles.

Rebecca Lindland, an auto analyst with Global Insight, said she expected Toyota would come close to hitting its sales target for 2007.

"Toyota is a very detail-oriented machine," she said. "They're going to get close to their 200,000 units unless they have a recall or have to stop the line."

Toyota's past two attempts to crack the American full-size truck market failed and its trucks were dismissed by critics as underpowered and undersized.

Although the Japanese automaker has been gaining sales elsewhere, rivals Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. still dominate the full-size truck market.

For February, sales of Ford's F-Series pickup trucks fell about 12 percent to 55,251.

GM, by contrast, saw double digit gains for its newer Silverado and GMC Sierra models. GM sold 76.836 Silverados and Sierras in February, a 36 percent gain.

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