As Auto Sales Rise, Toyota Boosts Prices

With U.S. auto sales currently climbing, Japanese auto-giant Toyota (NYSE:TM) has announced price increases across its popular Toyota and Scion brands. The hikes will hit the Camry and Tacoma pickup lines, USA Today reported, as well as the Prius, Highlander and Scion tC sports coupe. Both regular and hybrid models will see prices climb.

While the weak dollar has compelled many automakers to bump up prices on cars manufactured outside the U.S., a number of the affected Toyota vehicles — including the Tacoma and Camry — are built in U.S. factories, USA Today noted. The increase comes after Toyota boosted prices on the Tacoma line by as much as $645 last September.

Toyota’s move comes as analysts predict that March car sales will come in relatively strong. Analysts surveyed by Reuters expected March auto sales to hit an annualized pace of 14.75 million vehicles, slightly less than February’s 15.1 million pace. By comparison, March 2011 saw an annualized rate of 13.3 million vehicles sold in the U.S., Reuters said. The numbers are a stark improvement for automakers, whose U.S. sales fell from an annual average of 17 million in 2007 to 10.4 million in 2009. General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F) continued to offer “conservative” forecasts for 2012 sales, Reuters noted.

With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, many consumers may be compelled to consider hybrid or higher-MPG models. “The current level of gas prices will further accelerate the release of pent-up demand as consumers lean towards significantly more fuel efficient new vehicles while used prices are still strong,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas told Reuters.

The price increases at Toyota will start hitting vehicles produced in May, according to The Car Connection. Prices for the company’s popular Camry, midsize sedan line will rise $50 for XLE models to as much as $270 for V6-equipped cars. Still, these increases represent a 1% or smaller rise. The basic model Camry will start at $22,055 with the hybrid XLE version starting around $27,500. The Tacoma will be hit with the biggest jump, rising  0.9% to 1.2%, depending on the model.

Analysts at Barclays Capital had projected Toyota to increase its share of the U.S. auto market this year, Reuters said, even as Japanese automakers were cutting back on discounts and consumer incentives, due to the fuel economy of many of its vehicles.

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