DETROIT – Toyota’s US turnaround is picking up momentum and the Japanese automaker expects strong growth in what promises to be a stable and prosperous market, a top company executive said Thursday.
“We’re back on a very good growth curve,” Toyota Motor Sales executive vice president Bob Carter told Detroit’s Automotive Press Association.
“We’re very positive about our future.”
Toyota expects to sell more than 2.2 million vehicles in the United States this year, up from 2.1 million in 2012 and 1.6 million in 2011 when the industry was still mired in a deep downturn.
“We were in a three-year slump but we started growing last year,” said Carter, who credited a strong dealer network and hot new products for helping Toyota to take advantage of growing consumer demand.
Key economic indicators such as home sales, job creation and consumer confidence all suggest continuing economic recovery, he said.
“We think it will be a nice, stable market for the next three to five years,” Carter said.
Carter noted that analysts expect total US auto sales to rise to about 15.5 million vehicles this year and could “flirt” with 17 million as soon as 2018. Last year they rose to 14.5 million from 12.7 million in 2011.
Tom Libby, an analyst with R.L. Polk, said Toyota’s sales performance in August — when it overtook Ford for the number-two spot in the US market — underscores the Japanese automaker’s underlying strength.
“Everyone is saying General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are having a great year, and they are, but Toyota still picked up market share,” he said.
The growth comes after Toyota worked hard to rebuild its once-stellar reputation for safety after a series of mass recalls sparked US congressional hearings in 2010.
Carter acknowledged that some of the gains come from the decision to increase spending on incentives and discounts on the popular Camry sedan.
“It’s unusual for our history,” he said. “But we’re going to sell 400,000 Camry’s this year.”
Camry has been the best-selling passenger car in the United States for the past 12 years and Carter said Toyota is not about to relinquish the crown in the face of intense competition from rivals such as Hyundai, Ford and Honda.
Toyota’s incentive spending remains well below that of its rivals, Carter added.
The Japanese automaker also plans to launch more than two dozen new or substantially updated models in the next 24 months including the popular Corolla sedan – which is the foundation for the company’s growth around the world— and the Highlander sport utility vehicle. A new Prius hybrid sedan will hit the market in 2015.
Carter also emphasized Toyota was not attempting to capitalize on the declining value of the Japanese yen.
“It doesn’t matter where the yen is at. That’s not the way we do business,” he told reporters.
“Seventy percent of our vehicles are built here in the US,” he said, noting that Cars.com has described the Camry as the “Most American” passenger car because of its large percentage of American-made content.
Toyota has invested more than $2 billion in the United States and added more than 4,000 jobs since the beginning of 2012, he added.
It operates 14 plants in North America which produce 70 percent of the vehicles sold in the United States.