Toyota’s Lentz, after months of grilling, scheduled to speak at NADA next year

The past year has been extraordinary for Toyota Motor Corp.

Some 11.2 million Toyota and Lexus models have been recalled worldwide for safety and quality issues. The Toyota brand’s sales growth in the United States -- once the envy of the industry -- now trails the industry’s overall sales pace. Lexus may lose its long-held title as best-selling luxury nameplate in the United States.

Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., has been the automaker’s public face through much of it.

For months, he’s been grilled by safety advocates, regulators, Congress and journalists.

Early next year, he’ll face a friendlier crowd when he is scheduled to be the keynote speaker during the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco.

“Toyota has certainly been through some ups and downs this year,” Jack Caldwell, owner of Caldwell Toyota-Scion in Conway, Ark., and chairman of NADA’s convention committee, said in a statement issued today. “And Jim Lentz has been through it all. This will be a unique opportunity to hear him talk candidly about what Toyota has been through and where it is headed at a pivotal time for the company and the auto industry.”

NADA’s 94th annual convention is scheduled to run Feb. 5-7. Other convention speakers include Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state, and Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a USAir flight in the Hudson River -- saving 155 lives. And, as expected, there will be speeches from Ed Tonkin, 2010 NADA chairman, and Stephen Wade, 2011 NADA chairman.