WASHINGTON (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp. expects its vehicle sales in the United States to grow by about 3 percent in 2008 on the strength of more than a dozen new or updated vehicles, a top company executive said Wednesday.
Jim Lentz, Toyota's president of U.S. sales, marketing and distribution operations, told reporters that U.S. sales were expected to be about 2.61 million units in 2007, a growth of about 3 to 4 percent compared with the previous year. He expected similar gains in 2008.
''We haven't finalized our numbers for 2008 yet, but it feels more like in a range of this year's increase as opposed to the increases that we've seen from say 2004 to 2006, where we were up almost 10 percent a year,'' Lentz said.
Toyota was rapidly gaining sales in that period as it entered new segments, such as large pickups. But with offerings in every segment now, the automaker's growth had been expected to slow.
Lentz said Toyota will be releasing new versions of the Toyota Corolla and Matrix compact vehicles, the Lexus LX 570 sport utility vehicle and the Lexus IS F sports sedan along with about a dozen other vehicles to be announced shortly.
''Overall, we're looking for a relatively challenging industry, but I think we have a broad product lineup that will address wherever direction the industry takes us,'' Lentz said.
Toyota expects to end 2007 with sales of about 250,000 hybrids in the U.S., accounting for about 11 percent of the company's sales. Lentz said sales of the Prius hybrid grew 70 percent through the end of November.
A sales rate of 2.6 million vehicles still puts Toyota well behind General Motors Corp., the No. 1 automaker by U.S. sales. GM sold 3.5 million vehicles in the U.S. in the first 11 months of this year. But the boost could help Toyota in its race to become the largest automaker by worldwide sales, a title also now held by GM.
Toyota also is looking to overtake Ford Motor Co. as the No. 2 automaker by U.S. sales. Toyota sold nearly 49,000 more vehicles than Ford in the first 11 months of this year.
Lentz said he expects most segments to remain fairly flat with some growth in subcompacts and the small to midsize sport utility segment.
''I think the sense is the first half of the year is going to be probably below that number and the second half of the year we see some recovery that will probably be above that number,'' he said.
Lentz said earlier in the year company officials thought U.S. consumers might buy 16.7 million vehicles in 2007. But he said a combination of the rising cost of fuel, fallout from the shaky housing market and challenges over subprime mortgages and the move by domestic automakers to reduce their fleet sales contributed to a reduction in overall sales. Many auto industry analysts now are predicting U.S. sales of just more than 16 million for 2007, down from 16.5 million in 2006.