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JIM HENRY

Consumer confidence is sales 'wild card'

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News

The availability of credit is no longer an issue holding back auto sales, even in subprime, a Toyota exec says.

Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., told attendees at a JPMorgan Chase & Co. auto conference in New York last week that there's "plenty of credit." Pent-up demand and low interest rates are also positive factors, he said.

That leaves consumer confidence as the missing ingredient to a full recovery, he said. Toyota expects U.S. light-vehicle sales of about 14.3 million this year, he said. That's an increase of about 1.5 million from 2011 but still low by pre-recession standards.

"In terms of the overall industry in the second half, I'll characterize it this way: The car business is all about the 'Three C's' -- cars, credit and confidence. We have two of the three," Carter said. "The wild card is consumer confidence ... and it's crucial."

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