A battle is raging for the tens of thousands of customers Toyota has lost since its recall crisis erupted six weeks ago -- "a dogfight," says one analyst who sees Toyota losing market share over the long term.
Toyota has piled on record incentives this month, trying to claw back some of that market share. But any March gains could come at a huge cost in terms of pricing power and resale value.
Incentives or not, competitors say many Toyota customers are up for grabs.
A Ford Motor Co. insider said last week that plenty of loyal Toyota buyers are ripe for conquest. And John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, says Hyundai is winning cross-shopping battles for on-the-fence Toyota shoppers.
Hard numbers back up the anecdotes: Toyota has gone from being the top-selling brand on Jan. 1 -- with 14.3 percent share for all of 2009 -- to No. 3 through February with 11.0 percent. That translates into about 50,000 lost sales in the first two months of the year.
The brand's loyal customers have sat out the crisis, although dealers say Toyota's biggest-ever incentive program is pulling some of them back into showrooms. But they also say that non-Toyota owners are staying away.
The incentives, which include 0 percent financing for five years, cut-rate lease deals and two years of free maintenance, are having an impact. Edmunds.com says purchase intent for the brand -- defined as enough interest to configure a vehicle online -- hit a 14-month high last week of 18 percent.
But while dealers expect a strong March, Toyota still faces major headwinds.