* Toyota expects to sell 2.2 mln vehicles in U.S., best
* Honda aims to break record sales in U.S. in 2013
* Toyota certain to regain top global autos sales spot
By Yoko Kubota
DETROIT, Jan 14 Japanese automakers are
optimistic about even better sales in the United States this
year, helped by a weakening yen and product launch cycles, after
posting robust sales last year as they left behind the effects
of natural disasters in 2011.
Toyota Motor Corp, which on Monday became certain
to regain the world's top sales spot for the first time since
2010, sees for this year the strongest U.S. sales since 2008, an
executive told Reuters on Monday.
The third-biggest automaker in the United States after GM
and Ford is expecting to sell about 2.2 million vehicles this
year, up about 6 percent from a year ago, Jim Lentz, the
President and Chief Executive of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. said
at the Detroit auto show.
Honda Motor Co, the No.5 automaker in the United
States, is also optimistic about U.S. sales for 2013, aiming to
break its record sales of 1.55 million vehicles it had sold back
in 2007, Executive Vice President Tetsuo Iwamura said.
With strong sales of its key models including the redesigned
Accord sedan released in the United States in September, Honda
sees a chance to expand in the U.S. and neighboring markets,
said Chief Executive Takanobu Ito.
"Now is a very good time for us to enhance our presence in
North America," Ito told reporters.
Last year, Japanese firms sold more than 5.3 million
vehicles combined in the United States in 2012, up 20 percent
from a year ago when it was struggling to recover from natural
disasters that disrupted the supply chain. Their combined share
rose 2 percentage points to 36.9 percent.
Toyota, which has projected its 2012 global vehicle sales at
9.7 million vehicles, on Monday became certain to grab back the
title of the world's best-selling automaker after General Motors
said it sold 9.28 million vehicles globally last year.
Volkswagen sold 9.07 million vehicles in 2012.
YEN DROP HELPS JAPANESE BRANDS
The value of the yen, which was at 78 against the dollar in
October, has been dropping as Japan's new Prime Minister, Shinzo
Abe, pursues a policy mix of bold monetary easing and a big
fiscal spending, and was trading at around 89.5 yen on Monday.
Toyota, which locally produces about 70 percent of the
vehicles sold in North America, said the weakening yen means it
could import more vehicles from Japan to the United States,
including the luxury Lexus models that are still mostly produced
in Japan, as well as hybrids like the Prius that are not
produced locally, Lentz said.
Meanwhile, Honda, which locally manufactures about 90
percent of its vehicles sold in North America, wants to boost
that rate to 95 percent through capacity expansion at its
Indiana and Alabama plants as well as its new plant in Mexico,
Honda unveiled the concept version of the compact car
Fit-based SUV at the auto show on Monday. Ito said the SUV is
set to go on sale first in Japan in end-2013, followed by the
United States, and will be produced in Mexico, as well as in
Mazda Motor Corp said it expects the U.S. market at
15 to 15.5 million vehicles in 2013.
"I'm very optimistic on the next several years on the
industry, and I'm extremely optimistic knowing what I know for
Mazda, for us to be able to outgrow the industry and outpace the
industry and certainly return to profitability," James
O'Sullivan, President and Chief Executive of Mazda North
American Operations, told Reuters.
Toyota sees the U.S. market size at around 14.7 million
vehicles, up from the 14.5 million vehicles in 2012, a
conservative assumption compared with Honda that expects the
market at 14.8 to 15.3 million vehicles, and Nissan, with a 15.3
million vehicle forecast.