| NEW YORK, March 6
NEW YORK, March 6 Toyota Motor Corp
may be ready to ratchet up its sales outlook for the
2012 U.S. auto market after two months of stronger-than-expected
demand in the industry, a top executive at the Japanese
automaker said on Tuesday.
Toyota is still forecasting U.S. industry sales of 13.6
million this year, but strong January and February demand is
causing officials to rethink that prediction, Yoshi Inaba,
president and chief operating officer in charge of Toyota's
North American operations, said after a speech in New York.
"That may be looking a little bit more conservative," he
told Reuters after speaking on a panel about recovery from last
year's earthquake and tsunami that damaged the company and
others in Japan's auto industry.
Most automakers have resisted increasing their full-year
sales estimates for the industry, wanting to see if the strong
demand will continue.
U.S. auto sales rose nearly 16 percent in February and the
annual sales rate leapt to its best level in four years, topping
expectations for the second straight month. January sales rose
more than 11 percent, or more than twice the rate analysts had
Inaba said the industry is on a "steady recovery path" due
to pent-up demand, with the age of vehicles on the road
averaging almost 11 years. He credited the strong start to the
year to milder winter conditions and lower interest rates.
Toyota is still targeting company sales in the U.S. market
this year of 1.9 million vehicles, he added.
The U.S. annual sales rate, a closely watched industry
yardstick, jumped to 15.1 million vehicles in February, the best
monthly showing since February 2008, before the financial crisis
that sent Detroit into a tailspin. Analysts had expected an
annual pace of 14 million vehicles, with the high estimate at
The auto industry is now in its third year of a fitful
recovery from a severe slump that led to the bankruptcies of
General Motors Co and Chrysler in 2009. The U.S.
industry was selling nearly 17 million vehicles a year on
average in the 10-year period ending in 2007. Last year, the
industry sold 12.8 million vehicles.
Meanwhile, Inaba said the economic pressure on automakers
globally only continues to grow. He said there will be more
deals like the alliance signed last week between GM and Peugeot
in an effort to cut costs, in which GM will take a 7
percent stake in the French automaker.
"The global market is pushing automakers to do a much better
job and therefore pushing to align or cooperate or work together
as a common goal," Inaba said. "I don't think this GM/Peugeot
thing is the end of it."
Deals could take many forms, whether acquisitions or
alliances, he said.