Toyota aims to hold U.S. Hispanic market lead as segment grows

LOS ANGELES -- Toyota Motor Corp. plans to remain the top-selling auto brand among U.S. Hispanic customers as competing automakers boost efforts to win a bigger share of business from the nation's largest ethnic minority group.

Toyota has been the top brand for Hispanic buyers for 10 consecutive years, Bill Fay, group vice president for U.S. sales, said Sunday at a conference for the National Council of La Raza, the largest U.S. Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group.

Nissan Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are among the companies stepping up efforts to increase sales to Latinos, he said.

"The advantage we have is we've been doing it for a while. We have some equity with that consumer," Fay said in an interview at the conference in Los Angeles.

To retain its lead, Toyota's steps include expanded marketing and community outreach efforts.

"We're trying to cover all our bases and reinforce the strength of the product and involvement in the different communities."

Carmakers are under pressure to hold onto repeat buyers and attract new ones as product quality and designs improve across the industry.

There were 52 million Hispanics in the U.S. as of July 2011, or about 17 percent of the population, according to the Census Bureau. The group may account for 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, based on government estimates.

Hispanic buyers were 14 percent of Toyota's sales so far this year, Fay said, citing auto registration from data service R.L. Polk & Co. The company's share of the Hispanic market is about 16 percent, he said.

'Important group'

"In this market, even 1 percent of auto market share is critical, and Latino buyers are an important group," said Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision, a consumer research company based in San Diego. "It's a significant chunk of the market and it's a chunk worth looking at for all manufacturers."

U.S. sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion brand autos grew 5.1 percent to 1.2 million in the year's first half. The automaker still expects to deliver at least 2.3 million cars and trucks to U.S. customers this year, Fay said.

Industrywide sales in July to retail customers should increase as much as 5 percent, and "we'll be up in with the market," Fay said, without elaborating.

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