TOKYO -- After a year in which Japan's combined market share plummeted in the United States, a restocked and reinvigorated group of Japanese carmakers are pretty sure they can claw share back in 2012.
Some were oozing optimism at the Tokyo Motor Show last week.
The supply disruptions caused by the Japan earthquake and Thai floods have largely subsided. Now several Japanese CEOs expect their U.S. units to increase share even in an expanding market. And nearly all of them think overall U.S. sales will soar next year.
"Our business has been through a very difficult year," said Honda Motor Co. CEO Takanobu Ito. "However, in my mind, this is transient. Those issues can be overcome, and we are on our way to overcoming them."
Tetsuo Iwamura, president of American Honda Motor Co., said: "We will have enough production. We are really ready to go very aggressively into the marketplace. We were ready to go before, but the impact of the Thai flooding changed that."
Supply limitations caused Subaru sales to finally flatten out this year after a three-year surge. But Subaru of America Inc. COO Tom Doll expects sales to rise from around 260,000 this year to 300,000 in 2012.
"That's our goal," Doll said.
With a new Impreza about to go on sale, Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, president of Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., said, "The momentum is very strong. If we can provide more cars we can achieve more sales."
Several Japanese automakers escaped the negative trend this year and increased market share, including Nissan, Mazda and Mitsubishi.
All three expect to add market share next year, even with larger rivals Honda and Toyota Motor Corp. back at full strength.
"With our product offensive next year, there is no doubt we'll do better," said Colin Dodge, Nissan Motor Co.'s top executive in North America. "We'll get a full year of [the new] Versa, and [the Infiniti] JX is coming; we've got the American-built Leaf coming. We've got a new Altima coming and we've got a new Sentra coming that is like chalk and cheese compared with the old one. So yeah, I am expecting a great year. We'll increase profitability first, but share as well."
Through November, Mitsubishi sales were up 46 percent off a low base. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. President Osamu Masuko says things have slowed down recently for his company in the United States.
"We somehow need to get back that momentum as we head in the first half," he said.
But Masuko expects Mitsubishi to keep adding market share next year as production of the new Outlander Sport starts next July in Normal, Ill.
Mazda Motor Corp. CEO Takashi Yamanouchi said he expects to maintain or increase share next year despite an anticipated incentive war in the coming months.
"Due to lack of availability, Toyota and Honda in particular reduced their share during which time the Koreans made inroads," he said. "The effect of the earthquake has recovered and therefore all makes are planning for increased production."
Mazda will stay out of such a war, Yamanouchi vowed. He said Mazda will hold its own even in an incentive battle, with help from a new CX-5 and Mazda3.
Nissan's Dodge is roaring with optimism about the industry. He says demand in the United States is driven by supply, or lack thereof, not consumer sentiment.
"During the absence of Honda and Toyota inventory, [demand] dropped because there were a lot of consumers just waiting for a Honda and Toyota," he said. "I think the tick-back in September was because there were some Hondas and Toyotas about, but fundamentally it was driven by pent-up demand, which is phenomenal.
"I don't think the United States requires an incentive war," he added. "Somebody may start one, but it won't be us. And we've seen no signs of one. Demand in America is going to be healthy and the industry doesn't have to do anything stupid from an incentives perspective."
Dodge said Nissan is planning for about a 14 million-unit sales year in 2012, but added, "Personally, I'm a bit more optimistic."
Mark Rechtin contributed to this report