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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2004

Area Toyota sales gain strongly

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Sales results from two Sylvania Township auto dealerships help explain how Toyota Motor Corp. moved up a notch last year to become the world's second largest automaker.

At Lexus of Toledo, where the RX 330 sport-utility vehicle accounts for nearly half of all transactions, sales climbed about 125 percent in 2003 from 2002's results, said Brad Iagulli, sales manager.

Sales increased 18 percent between those years at Jim White Toyota, where the Camry and Corolla cars together make up about 45 percent of deals, said Dave Wittenmyer, general manager.

Both dealerships have something new to look forward to this year: Lexus of Toledo is building a $5 million store expected to open in June that will allow for more inventory - and, officials said, help spur another 125 percent sales increase - and Jim White Toyota will be adding the youth-oriented Scion brand in late June, as will other area Toyota dealers.

One model from the Scion brand, the xA car, will be on display starting Thursday at the 2004 Greater Toledo Auto Show at SeaGate Convention Centre. Toyota is going after those aged 18 to 34, who now make up just 5 percent of the new-car buying market but are expected to command 40 percent in 15 years, Mr. Wittenmyer said.

Unlike other automakers, which have put much of their energy into sport utility vehicles, Toyota has remained committed to cars while offering other models to help overall sales grow, Mr. Wittenmyer said.

"What drives it is the fact that Toyota comes out with so many new vehicles," he said. Vehicles from the Toyota, Lexus, and Scion brands will be among more than 200 models on display at the downtown Toledo auto show, which runs through Sunday. It costs $3 for senior citizens, $5 for other adults and teens, and nothing for younger children who are accompanied by an adult.

Hours for the Toledo Automobile Dealer Association show, which also highlights the 2005 Ford Mustang and the 2005 Ford GT, are 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; noon to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Toyota's rise is bittersweet for dealer Michael Rouen, who owns both domestic and import auto franchises in the Toledo area, including Rouen Toyota of Maumee and is president of the dealer association.

As a preview to the show, about 750 people are expected to attend a charity event tomorrow night put on by Auto Dealers United for Kids, a nonprofit organization formed by several dealers in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. It will benefit the Salvation Army, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, and a scholarship program for those enrolled in automotive programs at Owens Community College or Northwood University.



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