Consumers opting to buy new cars after holding onto their vehicles through the recession will help push 2012 US auto sales up 1 million vehicles, or about 8 per cent, a Toyota Motor Corp executive said on Thursday.
Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales and the second-highest ranking US official for the Japanese automaker, said 2012 sales would be around 13.6 million, up from about 12.6 million to 12.7 million this year.
He said Toyota would be back to full inventory by February, almost a year after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that disrupted supplies to production plants in Japan and North America.
Lentz said US auto sales would reach 15 million to 16 million by the middle of the decade, in line with other forecasts. Annual US auto sales were running near 17 million until 2008 when the recession caused the biggest downturn in three decades. The low point was in 2009 when sales were 10.4 million and China became the world's biggest auto market.
"I think we're starting to see the automotive sector recover beyond what's happening in the economy," said Lentz.
The average vehicle age in the United States is about 11 years, but consumers are getting ready to buy new ones at greater rates, partly because slack sales since 2008 have left fewer recent-model used cars, Lentz said in an interview after Toyota opened a new assembly plant in northern Mississippi.
Lentz pointed to surveys showing that 11 per cent of US households have members who have expressed intent to buy a new vehicle in the next year, up from 8 per cent in late 2010.
"At the same time we are seeing a decline in consumer confidence, we are seeing the intent to purchase increasing," said Lentz. "We are starting to see pent-up demand now trumping whatever is going on in the overall economy."
Lentz said he expected November US auto sales to be 13.5 million to 13.6 million on the seasonally adjusted annualised basis the car industry uses to measure sales.
He said Toyota's sales incentives, which have been falling, are not expected to spike as its US inventory levels rise after the effects of the earthquake in Japan.
Toyota's US inventory slipped to a low of 120,000 vehicles earlier this year, half the level the automaker likes to have, Lentz said.