Toyota Exec Warns U.S. Auto Industry Won't Recover Until 2010

He predicted U.S. car sales will hit just 14.5 million compared to recent sales of 16-17 million.

The U.S. auto industry is facing tough times and will not likely recover until 2010, Bob Carter, vice president in charge of Toyota's US sales, said August 14. "We're in for a rough patch," Carter said at a conference sponsored by the Center for Automotive Research in Traverse City, Mich. "We think the recovery will be shaped more like a Nike swoosh with gradual improvement in 2009 and then steady progress into 2010 as our economic fundamentals regain solid footing."

Carter predicted U.S. car sales will hit just 14.5 million vehicles in 2008, down about 12% from last year and well off recent norms of 16 to 17 million.

Toyota expects to continue to gain U.S. market share this year and is boosting production of its fuel efficient models which are currently in very short supply, Carter said. But the automaker will likely see its sales decline by around 6% to about 2.45 million vehicles, Carter said, noting that this could be the first time in 18 years Toyota did not post a sales gain in the United States.

"We have to radically revamp our lineups, create cleaner technology, and work with others to develop new energy, new fueling stations and smarter roads," he added.

Carter said that while Toyota is "still quite bullish on the industry's long-term outlook" and expects US sales to top 17 million a year "in the not too distant future," the industry as a whole is "not ready" to meet new regulations on fuel efficiency and emissions. "There's got to be an immense amount of change in the industry by the middle of the decade."

"We need to rollout more hybrids and continue to perfect ethanol clean diesel electric cars fuel cells and other alternatives."

Toyota recently announced plans to build its popular Prius hybrid in the U.S. at a Mississippi plant which will open in late 2010. The plant, which was originally slated to produce a sport utility vehicle, has a capacity of 150,000 units a year but Toyota has not set a target yet for Prius production.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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