Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. is offering zero-percent financing for 60 months or low lease rates in response to an 8.7% new-vehicle sales plunge in February.

Available through April 5, the offer cover vehicles that are “really the heart of all of our sales,” Toyota Div. Group Vice President Bob Carter tells media on a conference call.

The models, which account for about 80% of Toyota’s monthly sales, are the Camry, Corolla, Prius, Yaris and Avalon cars, as well as the Highlander, Venza and RAV4 cross/utility vehicles and Tundra fullsize pickup.

However, Carter admits the incentive program, which also includes two years free general maintenance for returning customers, can’t erase the fallout from Toyota’s recent recalls or the lingering questions still surrounding the brand.

“We stubbed our toe in terms of our image,” he says. “Nothing that I can come up with (in) an incentive program…makes that go away.”

Toyota sold 100,027 units in February, according to Ward’s data. Carter says 13% of that figure is fleet sales, up from Toyota’s typical 8%-10% fleet ratio.

He says Toyota estimates it lost about 18,000 unit-sales in February because of two recalls, a stop-sale of models affected by one of the campaigns, intransigence by consumers waiting for March incentives and inclement weather in the eastern U.S.

Carter suggests most of those 18,000 unrealized sales would have been first-time Toyota buyers,who avoided the brand because of the controversies.

Toyota’s ads for its incentive program showcase returning customers explaining they are aware of the quality concerns surrounding the auto maker, but decided to buy a Toyota anyway.

“We continue to produce some of the best vehicles in the world,” Carter adds.

Examining February sales results, models that suffered the steepest declines were not those subject to recent recalls for sticky pedals or ill-fitting floor mats – a trend also seen in January.

The Prius hybrid-electric vehicle saw sales increase 10.2% despite a recent recall because of a brake defect.

Sales of the non-hybrid Camry, which is included in the sticky pedal and floor-mat recalls, fell 16.2%. Deliveries of the Camry Hybrid, not included in recalls, tumbled 51.4%, according to Ward’s data.

Toyota’s deepest shortfalls, as much as 60% and more, were seen with its Highlander Hybrid CUV, Lexus GS sedan and Lexus SC coupe, none of which were subject to the three recent recalls.

The Toyota Avalon large sedan suffered a 65% sales plunge. However, while it was subject to a recall, a next-generation model is in the pipeline, prompting a sell-down of current models that also contributed to the decline.

Lexus sales rose 5%, with the next-generation GX SUV contributing mightily, says Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president.

Lexus RX sales continued to be strong, rising just slightly over year-ago.

Templin says Lexus will be making some product announcements in the next few days.

Meanwhile, Toyota says during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing it will deliver to the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. on Wednesday three tools to enable translation of the auto maker’s electronic data recorders.

By the end of April, there will be 150 such devices available in the U.S., says Yoshimi Inaba, president and CEO- Toyota Motor North America Inc.

In addition, the auto maker vows to make brake-override technology standard equipment on all its vehicles and has appointed former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to head a committee to oversee Toyota vehicle safety on a global basis.

– with Eric Mayne

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com