YOUNTVILLE, CA – With 2012 sales healthy after four depressed years, the Toyota Camry should come close to, if not surpass, the 400,000-unit sales mark by year-end, a top executive predicts.

“We’ll be pretty close, right around that,” Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager for the U.S. Toyota Div., tells WardsAuto in an interview at a media event here.

The traditional best-selling midsize sedan in the U.S. hit its all-time high in 2007 with 473,108 units. But deliveries slipped in the ensuing years to 436,617 in 2008, 356,824 in 2009 and 327,804 in 2010, WardsAuto data shows.

The next-generation model released last year did not help 2011 sales, which were impacted by a lack of inventory following Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, and Camry deliveries fell to 308,510 units.

But the bleeding has stopped this year with 314,788 Camry sales through the first nine months, despite newer competition.

However, Fay reminds that the Camry’s top cross-shop, the Honda Accord, still is launching its next-generation model, while the redesigned Nissan Altima, another marque often compared with the Camry, just now is seeing sufficient volume reach dealers.

The executive does not expect the Toyota brand to match in October the impressive year-on-year gains it has enjoyed in recent months. The month’s sales results will be announced on Thursday, and a more modest increase is expected, although the Camry, as well as the Prius hybrid range, again are expected to be strong.

The No.1 Japanese auto maker reportedly expects a 20% gain in U.S. light-vehicle sales this month, while WardsAuto is forecasting a 23% rise compared with year-ago.

Toyota is calling for 230,000 Prius deliveries this year, with volume remaining flat or seeing a slight uptick in 2013. The auto maker already has surpassed its all-time record in a calendar year, with January-September sales of 183,340, units, compared with 181,221 in entire 2007.

While low inventory of the small Prius C subcompact isn’t hurting deliveries too much, Fay hopes to see tight inventories loosen up with increased production in the first quarter.

“It’s not the end of the world to have (a low days’ supply). But I think in an effort to satisfy the customers and see what the potential is, we’re going to have to have a little more availability,” he says.

The Prius C, along with the liftback and V wagon models, is built in Japan. Fay says North American production of the car is “still on the table and still getting looked at really closely. Now that we’re selling in excess of 200,000 units, I think that helps (build a case for local production).”

The Prius was supposed to be built at Toyota’s newest North American assembly plant, in Blue Springs, MS. But the U.S. recession caused the auto maker to change course, substituting the Highlander cross/utility vehicle before finally settling on the facility as another source of the Corolla compact sedan.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com