* Lentz sees full Toyota U.S. inventory by February
* Auto recovery to outstrip general economy growth-Lentz
* U.S. 2012 auto sales seen near 13.6 million-Lentz
By Bernie Woodall
BLUE SPRINGS, Miss., Nov 17 Consumers opting to
buy new cars after holding onto their vehicles through the
recession will help push 2012 U.S. auto sales up 1 million
vehicles, or about 8 percent, a Toyota Motor Corp
executive said on Thursday.
Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales and the
second-highest ranking U.S. 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
Lentz said U.S. auto sales would reach 15 million to 16
million by the middle of the decade, in line with other
forecasts. Annual U.S. 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 percent of U.S.
households have members who have expressed intent to buy a new
vehicle in the next year, up from 8 percent in late 2010.
"At the same time we are seeing a decline in consumer
confidence, we're seeing the intent to purchase increasing,"
said Lentz. "We're starting to see pent-up demand now trumping
whatever is going on in the overall economy."
Lentz said he expected November U.S. auto sales to be 13.5
million to 13.6 million on the seasonally adjusted annualized
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 U.S. inventory levels rise
after the effects of the earthquake in Japan.
Toyota's U.S. inventory slipped to a low of 120,000
vehicles earlier this year, half the level the automaker likes
to have, Lentz said.
"We started this month around 160,000" vehicles in U.S.
inventory, Lentz said. "We will probably get to 200,000 by the
end of the year and probably February or so we will be back to