NEW YORK, March 26 (Reuters) - U.S. industry sales in March have been strong, with the annual sales rate tracking at a pace that would top 15 million for the fifth consecutive month, a senior U.S. executive for Toyota Motor Corp said on Tuesday.
Bob Carter, Toyota's senior vice president for U.S. auto operations, said the Japanese automaker is "very optimistic" about the economy in 2013 - citing a jobs recovery, rising consumer confidence and an improving housing market.
"So far, this month of March looks to be very good for all manufacturers," Carter told industry executives at a conference ahead of the New York auto show. He said industry sales are tracking up 6.6 percent in March, with an annual rate of 15.2 million to 15.3 million vehicles.
Carter said Toyota sees U.S. industry sales finishing this year at 15.3 million, which would be up from 14.5 million last year, and the U.S. gross domestic product growing about 2 percent.
He also expects Toyota's brands - Toyota, Lexus and Scion - to top 2.2 million in sales this year, or up from more than 2.08 million last year. He said Toyota will launch nine new or updated vehicles, including the Toyota RAV4 SUV and Tundra pickup truck, in the U.S. market.
Carter said Toyota will offer more vehicles in the U.S. designed in this market, such as the new Avalon large car. He said he would like to see the company add a sports car and expand its truck lines, and that those areas are being studied.
The next Corolla small car, which the company will have more news about later this year, will include high fuel efficiency and improved styling, Carter said.
He reiterated that Toyota will offer a fuel-cell hybrid vehicle by 2015, and it plans to launch 20 new or redesigned hybrid vehicles globally in the same time frame.