updated 9/17/2009 11:59:39 AM ET 2009-09-17T15:59:39

Toyota Motor Corp. will pour $1 billion into a major U.S. marketing campaign in the fourth quarter, as the Japanese automaker bets on a recovery in the ailing auto market here.

The sum is "more than we've spent before" in the period, spokesman Irv Miller said. The fourth quarter is typically a strong sales season for automakers, who often launch big end-of-the-year promotions to drum up sales of new model-year vehicles. Toyota rolls out its "Toyotathon" marketing and sales blitz in November.

"We see the economy is starting to strengthen a bit," Miller said. "We've stopped playing defense. It's time to go on the offense."

The marketing push, which Toyota unveiled to dealers at a Las Vegas convention on Tuesday, comes a week after General Motors Co. announced its own new campaign. GM's effort features TV ads starring Chairman Ed Whitacre and a 60-day money-back guarantee program designed to draw skittish consumers back to its vehicles.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, has been pummeled by the worldwide downturn and posted its first-ever loss for the fiscal year ended in March. It expects a second consecutive loss in the current fiscal year.

The automaker has responded with aggressive cost cutting efforts and a renewed push to sell more green cars like the Prius hybrid. Toyota rolled out a redesigned Prius earlier this year and the car remains the top-selling hybrid in the U.S.

A future challenge for Toyota, however, could come from the fast-growing Chinese auto industry. On Thursday, the Chinese battery and automaker BYD Co. set its sights high by saying it plans to unseat Toyota as the world's largest automaker in under two decades.

Toyota's sales in the U.S., the world's biggest vehicle market, rose 6.4 percent in August, helped in large part by the government's Cash for Clunkers program. Toyota was the top-selling automaker under the program, helped by sales of fuel-efficient vehicles like the Corolla and the Prius. Its sales remain down 29 percent through the first eight months of the year.

Miller said Toyota's inventory remains tight, particularly for the automaker's fuel-efficient vehicles. Additional production increases are planned through the remainder of the year to boost supply at dealerships, he said, many of which are struggling to come up with vehicles to sell after Clunkers.

Toyota's namesake division had 12 days supply of vehicles as of Thursday, Miller said. The Prius had only 4 days supply while the RAV-4 crossover had 9 days supply. Typically, Toyota aims for between 30 and 45 days supply of vehicles, Miller said.

U.S.-traded shares of Toyota rose 44 cents in midday trading Thursday to $82.90.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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