Toyota trying to win Ford truck loyalists

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Joe Arizola was a loyal Ford pickup driver until about a month ago.

"I had never even liked to stop at a Toyota place," Arizola said. "I just never liked it. I was from a Ford family. I just saw a Toyota before I was going to buy me a Ford. I just stopped by accident."

He stopped at Universal Toyota and bought a 2006 Tundra, which he uses to shuttle his rebar crew from the office to job sites. Now he’s looking down the road to the next-generation Toyota that will start rolling off the assembly line in San Antonio in November.

"If I was to buy another truck it would have to be a Toyota," Arizola said.

Toyota, which remains a distant fourth in U.S. trucks sales behind Detroit’s Big Three, is trying to rope in buyers with a taste of the Tundra in hopes they will trade up after new models hit dealer lots in January.

Nabbing a Ford loyalist such as Arizola is key as Ford remains the dominant truck brand in Texas. It’s led the country in sales for 29 straight years and sells more pickups in a year in Texas than Toyota sells in the entire country.

Toyota is doing what its U.S. competitors have relied on to boost sales: It’s offering incentives on the 2006 model — $2,000 cash back or 0 percent financing. It’s also offering a low lease rate with the hope of getting those ’06 Tundras back in trade for the newer models about 18 months down the road.

"Our incentives are pretty much comparable to what Chevy is doing on the Silverado," said Mike Michels, spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA. "Both Silverado and Tundra are approaching sell-down. Incentives always rise toward the end of a model cycle."

Michels said U.S. consumers buy the last models in a product cycle because they feel they’re getting a good deal, unlike in Japan, where as soon as a new model is announced the old ones stop selling.

Last summer the domestic carmakers relied on employee pricing and huge cash-back offers to produce record sales and reduce inventories.

Toyota’s pickups have always come up short in the size and power department in comparison to the domestic half-ton trucks on the market. But now the Japanese carmaker is promising a bigger, more powerful Tundra.

Arizola said the Toyota drives like his family car, a Volvo. Ironically, Ford owns the Volvo brand.

Sales figures from the company show Tundra sales are down compared with 2005. But Universal Toyota General Manager John Mathews said that has more to do with inventory than waning interest.

"The supply is lower than before and the sales rate is faster than in December," Mathews said. "What a positive thing for retained value for the customer. We’re taking late-model Tundras in trade. It’s very encouraging for me as a dealer."

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