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A buyer's market at D.C. area car dealerships

Alfred May, left, of the District talks with salesman Russell Bruce at Darcars Toyota in Silver Spring. May owns a 2010 Prius, a recalled model, and he's thinking about trading it in on a new one.
Alfred May, left, of the District talks with salesman Russell Bruce at Darcars Toyota in Silver Spring. May owns a 2010 Prius, a recalled model, and he's thinking about trading it in on a new one. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 27, 2010

The winds have been blowing, the roads are full of salt, and two fierce congressional hearings this week raised more questions than they answered about automotive safety, auto experts say. Looks like a good time to buy a car.

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February has been a miserable month for local auto dealers. Snowstorms forced many to shut their doors on what should have been busy weekend days. The Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled about 7 million vehicles over safety problems -- the subject of the congressional hearings -- and the economy has not exactly encouraged customers to buy cars, either.

So dealers are turning on the salesmanship -- and offering incentives.

Depending on the region, Toyota is offering up to $1,500 off or zero percent financing on certain models. And rivals -- including Chevrolet, Chrysler, GMC, Ford and Hyundai -- are responding, offering up to $1,000 in some cases to persuade drivers to trade in their Toyotas and buy a different brand in what some consumer magazines have nicknamed a "Toyota conquest" campaign.

Toyota's market share dropped from 18.3 percent in December to 14.2 percent in January, according to J.D. Power, which said the rate of decline is starting to slow.

"I definitely do think that it is a good time for a consumer looking to buy," said George Augustaitis, market analyst for CSM Auto, an auto forecasting firm. "There's deals from GM, Ford and Chrysler as they're trying to entice the Toyota buyer. They're trying to capture some of the market share.

"If you were looking to buy a new Toyota, you have a lot of manufacturers that are trying to entice you with rebates to get you to come over and buy their cars, or at least to try them. It is enough to get someone who's driving a Toyota . . . to test drive a Malibu, maybe, or at least drive some dealership traffic when we're in a generically slow month."

Many dealers are hoping -- and expecting -- that the incentives will continue into the spring as Toyota works to fix vehicles recalled for acceleration and brake troubles.

Remy Faures, 36, of Silver Spring was in the Darcars Toyota store in Silver Spring this week, thinking about buying a Toyota Sienna minivan for his wife and three children. He was undaunted by the recalls and hoping to get a good price.

"I hope that the dealers are under pressure so they may be inclined to give me a better deal," he said.

Faures said he wasn't worried about buying a Toyota.

"I'm not giving them a blank check, because they made mistakes," he said, "but the odds are so slim of me getting into an accident over one of these recall issues."

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