Wednesday May 2, 2012

DETROIT (AP) -- Toyota is back. It’s putting a year of earthquake-related shortages behind it and grabbing sales from stumbling General Motors and Ford.

Toyota’s sales rose 12 percent in April, and its share of the market returned to levels it hasn’t seen since before the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. Its sales outpaced the industry as a whole, which saw growth of 2.3 percent last month, according to Autodata Corp.

Toyota’s resurgence could mean better deals as its rivals fight for customers by offering discounts and promotions. Already, Toyota has announced zero-percent financing and other deals in May. It also means better selection for buyers. Toyota’s factories are cranking out popular models that were missing from showrooms last year when the earthquake disrupted production.

Toyota snatched buyers from General Motors, Ford, Honda and Nissan, according to trade-in data from auto research site Edmunds.com. All of those companies saw sales fall in April. April started slowly, but sales picked up toward the end of the month. It was the fourth straight month in which sales have run at an annual rate higher than 14 million.

Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for the LMC Automotive consulting firm, said pent-up demand for new cars is driving sales, as the average age of vehicles on U.S. roads approaches a record 11 years. That demand continues even after a strong February and March.

"We’re in a more pronounced recovery here," he said.