| -

IRVINE and SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Analysts from Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book's Kbb.com found that hefty incentives offered by Toyota are doing more than just help the brand recover from ongoing recall turmoil.

Looking at the situation from an industry-wide perspective, Edmunds.com believes that the incentives given out not only by Toyota, but General Motors as well, are sparking substantial sales growth. In fact, analysts think that early March sales performances are stronger than they've been in nearly a year.

"Data from the first eight days of the month indicates that the sales pace is at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of about 12.5 million units — the highest level since August 2009," explained Edmunds.com senior analyst Ray Zhou.

"Generous incentives from General Motors and Toyota have stimulated this boom, but I anticipate that it will cool off and that the month will end with a SAAR in the low 11 million," Zhou conceded.

Thanks to its incentives program, Edmunds.com estimated that Toyota's retail market share so far this month is at about 16.8 percent, up 10 percent from last March's level which was 15.2 percent. The site pointed out that the share also is 31-percent higher than the 12.8 percent mark noted last month when the company's widely publicized recalls impaired sales.

Furthermore, Edmunds.com pointed out that Toyota's daily retail sales rate running at about 47 percent higher than that of the same period last year and about 71 percent higher than that of last month.

Site analysts next turned to Chevrolet, another brand they said has been heavily incentivized. They indicated that Chevrolet's retail market share so far this month is 12.9 percent, up 13 percent from last March's level of 11.4 percent. Edmunds.com also noted that the figure is 14 percent higher than the February reading of 11.3 percent.

Edmunds.com mentioned that Ford got a late start in the incentives game this month, while Honda has not responded with any special offers. As a result, site officials think both are suffering market share losses.

In the first eight days of March, Edmunds.com pinpointed Honda's retail market share at 9.2 percent, which was 18-percent lower than last March's figure of 11.2 percent. The share also was down 11 percent from the February mark of 10.4 percent.

In the same period, site analysts determined Ford's retail market share stood at 11.7 percent, which calculated into a 5-percent dip from last March's share of 12.4 percent. They also said it was down 5 percent from 12.5 percent market share the automaker enjoyed last month.

More Analysis of Toyota Incentive Effects

Meanwhile, James Bell, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book's Kbb.com, explained how else the enhanced Toyota incentives are helping the automaker.

When discussing the latest Kbb.com Hot Car Report, Bell noted that interest in the 2011 Toyota Sienna topped weekly shopping-activity growth on the site by extremely wide margin for newly introduced vehicles. Interest in the Sienna soared by 173 percent.

The next closest vehicle in this segment is 2011 Hyundai Sonata, which had a percentage increase of just 29.

"The Sienna is in many ways a big leap forward in the evolution of the minivan from ‘pariah' to ‘destination' and it bodes well for Toyota that there appears to be pent-up demand for such a dynamic minivan — no matter how strange those words seem to be side-by-side," Bell highlighted.

Furthermore, when looking at overall activity in the past week at Kbb.com, Bell determined that the top five gains all were for Toyota vehicles.

Leading the way was the Highlander at 58 percent, with the Avalon following close behind at 57 percent. Also making the list were the RAV4 (49 percent), Sienna (40 percent) and Camry (37 percent).

"While such shopper activity is great news indeed for Toyota, it seems only fair to remind everyone that this growth is in relation to a depth rarely experienced by this brand, due in part to the recall issues in the prior weeks," Bell explained. "A big component for this growth, especially in such mainstream vehicles as the Camry and RAV4, are the announced incentives — a key motivator in Toyota's expected recovery.

"It pays to mention that their current recall issues are statistically small when compared to the millions of Toyotas on the road, and such deep incentives will reignite interest in vehicles that historically sold as fast as Toyota could supply," Bell went on to say.

Though the vehicles trailed the Sienna by wide margins, Bell still noted that strong interest in each of the new 2011 models from Hyundai — the Sonata as well as the Tucson — is a healthy indicator for the manufacturer.

Bell emphasized that it "signals the end of the previously conceived notion that this brand is only a maker of well-warranted and well-priced vehicles that lack in emotion and style." 

Kbb.com also mentioned the five new vehicles that lagged the most in interest during the past week. The declines covered various models, including the Volkswagen CC (-17 percent), Chrysler 300 (-18 percent), Kia Sorento (-19 percent), Volkswagen Routan (-22 percent) and Land Rover Range Rover Sport (-24 percent).