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Lentz: Toyota battling low consumer confidence

Toyota may extend interest-free loans

Jim Lentz

UPDATED: 10/9/08 9:00 pm EDT

Toyota’s 0-percent financing offer was an attempt to combat low consumer confidence, Toyota’s U.S. sales president said Thursday at the grand opening of the Toyota Technical Center.

Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. President Jim Lentz blamed the auto industry’s current sales woes on consumer confidence problems after the ribbon-cutting of the new facility south of Ann Arbor.

“Now we also have some great credit offers to let consumers know that there is credit available in this industry to come buy vehicles,” Lentz said, adding Toyota can also combat low consumer confidence by marketing its fuel-efficient vehicles.

Toyota may extend the current 0-percent financing program past its planned Nov. 3 end date, spokesman John McCandless said. The company will make the decision about two-thirds of the way through October, McCandless said.

Lentz said most Toyota customers qualify for the 0-percent financing Toyota began offering early this month on 11 models after posting a 32.3 percent September sales drop from September 2007. October sales so far look about even with September, Lentz said, but “it’s too early to tell,” he said.

Despite the loss in profits, Toyota’s dealers are “in good shape,” Lentz said, and the automaker does not need to decrease production.

By 2020, all Toyota vehicles should have hybrids, Lentz said. But due to the popularity of the Prius, Lentz is pushing the development of the car into almost a “sub-brand” for the U.S., he said. He envisions adding a smaller Prius than Toyota currently offers “and then one on steroids” to the current Prius offerings.

Toyota will not make its plug-in Prius available to customers until after 2010, Lentz said.

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