Toyota projects gas prices to bottom out at $3.50

Robert Carter Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

UPDATED: 8/14/08 1:25 pm EDT

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Gas prices could rise to $5.00 per gallon in the U.S. by the middle of the next decade, the Toyota division general manager for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. told reporters here on Thursday, Aug. 14.

Bob Carter said Toyota’s plans use $3.50 per gallon as the floor for gas prices in the U.S.

In a panel discussion at the Management Briefing Seminars, Carter also said that Toyota hasn’t “been as open and as communicative as we perhaps should have been” with suppliers. But, he said, Toyota is now trying to open itself up. He encouraged suppliers who haven’t been able to win business with Toyota to keep trying.

“If you haven’t been successful in the past, please try us again,” he said. “We’re very open, we’re looking for ideas and we can put you in contact with the right people.”

Pick up in pickups

On Wednesday, Aug. 13, Carter said he’s confident the U.S. pickup truck market will rebound and continue to make up a large part of total sales.

He expects full-size pickup truck sales to total 1.45 million in 2008 -- a significant drop from last year’s sales of 2.14 million units. But Carter said he eventually expects the market to stabilize.

“We are absolutely confident that the recovery will take place, it’s just arguable when,” he said.

“We’ve reduced production. It’s our intention to build to the market. But when that market comes back, the core buyer who uses the truck for employment, who uses it for work, whether it’s the landscaping company or the contractor, can’t substitute a Corolla or a Yaris.”

Still, he said he’s not sure what will happen to what he calls the “recreational user” of pickup trucks -- the weekend warrior who uses his pickup to tow a boat or pickup a grill at Home Depot. But, Carter said, that’s not a core part of the market for full size pickups.

Toyota's Bob Carter appeared at the Management Briefing Seminars today. Photo credit: Joe Wilssens

Struggling to meet demand

Toyota’s U.S. sales have been weighed down by weak demand for light trucks this year even as demand for its small cars went through the roof. But Toyota has struggled to meet that demand, especially for the Prius. Carter said there’s not much Toyota can do to build more Priuses until it opens its new plant in Mississippi.

“Unfortunately from a sales perspective we sold the inventories down to nearly zero,” he said. “In the short term after having that kind of increase last year and a big increase the year before that we’re restricted on capacity and components.”

Carter said Toyota has yet to decide when a plug-in hybrid will be available to consumers. It’s currently testing some plug-ins in California and plans to make plug-in Priuses available to fleets in 2010. A redesigned Prius will go on the market in 2009 as a 2010 model.

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