Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.’s Toyota Div. likely will see sales fall 6% this year, a top official tells Ward’s.

Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager, says although the division, which includes the Toyota and Scion brands, will see market share increases in 2008, volume will slide.

“The market is looking like it’s going to be down 11% to 12%, and we’ll probably be down half that,” Carter tells Ward’s on the sidelines of the Management Briefing Seminars here.

Toyota recently announced its total U.S. sales, including the Lexus brand, would drop to 2.44 million this year from like-2007.

Carter says Toyota’s final sales figure will depend on whether or not the auto maker can get enough in-demand 4-cyl. engines through recent production adjustments.

He also says the “real solution” to securing enough Prius hybrid electric-vehicles to meet demand will be getting the new Mississippi plant up and running.

Toyota announced last month it would build Prius for the first time in the U.S. starting in 2010 at the new facility near Tupelo, which initially was slated to produce Toyota’s Highlander cross/utility vehicle.

While some competitors might be high on pure electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell vehicles, Carter isn’t concerned Toyota may get left behind as a result of its strong reliance on HEVs.

“One reason we feel so confident in the hybrid’s (future) is flexibility,” he says, noting Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system can be mated to a variety of engines, including those running on diesel or hydrogen.

Carter says Toyota is studying all alternative powertrain systems, including plug-in hybrids, and he expects there to be Prius plug-in hybrids numbering “in the hundreds” available in the U.S. in 2010.

Toyota has said it will offer such a model to fleet customers only by then.

Carter says while he would “like to have everything now,” Toyota must first study the model’s performance in fleets before it announces when it will begin retail sales to mass-market consumers.

Toyota is expected to introduce its next-generation Prius at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, alongside a first-ever dedicated HEV for the Lexus brand.

Carter says the upcoming dedicated Lexus HEV “is a vehicle unto itself” and not based on the Prius.