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August 1, 2013

ONLINE ONLY: Auto leases on the rise

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SOUTHFIELD, Mich. —

"We're going to leverage a good position we have from resale values to use that as an advantage," Fay said in a phone interview. "It allows us to offer very competitive monthly payments."

The ability to offer Camry at cheaper monthly rates is crucial as Toyota tries to stem declining demand for the car in the year's first half. Camry deliveries slipped 2.9 percent to 207,626, according to researcher Autodata Corp.

Competitors, including Ford, Honda and Nissan, are closing in on Camry, the top-selling car in the U.S. for the past 11 years. A 20 percent surge in Tokyo-based Honda's Accord deliveries during the first half cut its sales deficit to Camry by 65 percent from a year earlier, to less than 21,000.

The Altima, one of seven models that Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan lowered prices on beginning in May, has trimmed its shortfall to Camry by 30 percent, to about 40,000. And Ford has pared Camry's lead on its Fusion by 40 percent, to less than 47,000.

All four automakers probably will post increased July sales across their respective lineups. Ford may report a 17 percent gain, the average of nine estimates. Deliveries probably will rise 17 percent for Toyota, 16 percent for Honda and 13 percent for Nissan, each the average of seven estimates.

The analysts' average estimate for Honda sales is in line with the forecast John Mendel, the company's U.S. executive vice president, gave in a telephone interview. Deliveries will be up 16 percent to 18 percent for the Honda brand and 6 percent to 7 percent for Acura, he said.

Leasing is "a way to reach consumers that were risk-averse and hesitant to jump out there and buy a new car," Alec Gutierrez, an auto analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said in a telephone interview. The leasing rate for Camry rose to about one-fourth of sales in each month early in 2013, from 20 percent or less a year earlier, according to the Irvine, California- based researcher's data.

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