NAGOYA, Japan -- Toyota Motor Corp. said it is unlikely to recapture its peak market share it held four years ago in the United States, its biggest market, the latest sign the Japanese carmaker is shifting from aggressively expanding sales to improving quality.
Toyota, the third best-selling carmaker in the United States after General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., is likely to earn market share between 14 percent to under 17 percent in the future, Senior Managing Officer Jim Lentz said today. Toyota's share for the five months to May was 14.2 percent.
"I think we had some tailwinds that were very, very unique, so I'm not sure if 17 percent is a realistic number," Lentz told reporters in Nagoya, Japan. "But somewhere between today's 14 (percent) and that number, I think we will continue to grow."
The comments by Lentz, who is also Toyota's CEO of North America, is the latest sign of Toyota's attitude shift to improving quality from expanding sales as President Akio Toyoda blames the company's growth spurt of the past decade as a factor that contributed to a recall crisis from 2009 to 2010.
Toyota's U.S. share peaked in 2009 at 17.0 percent as American rivals faced or neared bankruptcy following the global financial crisis. It had outsold Ford and was at No.2 after General Motors. In 2012 Toyota's U.S. market share was at 14.4 percent, recovering from 12.9 percent in 2011 following a disruption of its supply chains after a huge quake and tsunami hit Japan.
Toyoda, the 57-year-old president and the grandson of the company's founder, has been trying to bring the carmaker back to its traditional focus on quality and cost cuts from every aspect of building cars. He also named foreigners as regional heads for the first time to speed up local decision-making.
In April, Toyoda named Lentz, a 30-year veteran at Toyota in the United States, as the first American to head the Japanese carmaker's North American business. He is among the four foreigners out of the company's eight regional heads.
Toyota, which is expected to start selling in the fall its new model of the popular Corolla compact, is on target to sell 2.2 million vehicles in the United States in 2013, up 6 percent year-on-year, Lentz said.
Prius sales goal
On another matter, Lentz said Toyota will meet the sales goal for its Prius model in the U.S. after saying in April that the world's biggest carmaker may adjust the target as declining gas prices sap demand.
"We're on target for sales of 250,000 units of the Prius family," Lentz said. "The U.S. economy finally seems to be improving."
Toyota's U.S. deliveries have missed analyst estimates for four straight months and its sales gain in the five months ended May trailed behind industrywide growth amid demand for pickup trucks.
"Competition is very fierce in the market this year, and with relatively low gasoline prices, demand for models such as Toyota's Prius may not be very strong," said Yoshiaki Kawano, a Tokyo-based analyst at industry researcher IHS Automotive. "The new Corolla due later this year will be a chance for Toyota to boost sales."
Industrywide deliveries have increased 7.3 percent to 6.42 million units through May this year, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Toyota's sales rose 5.2 percent to 913,556 units in the same period.
Toyota is also seeing "good" pickup truck demand in the U.S. amid "the best consumer confidence in the past five years," Lentz said.
Toyota expects sales of 250,000 pickup trucks this year, an increase of 2.8 percent from a year earlier. Pickup demand will increase to about 2 million units industrywide, from about 1.94 million units a year earlier, Lentz estimates.
While sales of its Prius hybrid vehicles last month were the best in a year, Toyota in April said deliveries of the gasoline-and-electric models may not reach a target for growth in 2013 after falling 8.4 percent in the first quarter.
"Despite what the actual gasoline prices are, lower demand for fuel-efficient models such as the Prius show that consumers are going for pickup trucks on an assumption for gas prices to remain low," said Koichi Sugimoto, a Tokyo-based auto analyst at BNP Paribas SA.
The carmaker also expects to introduce the IS models for its luxury Lexus brand in the U.S. in the next few months, Lentz said.
Lexus sales have increased 10 percent to 97,060 units this year in the U.S., the biggest market for the premium models. That puts the luxury brand ahead of its target to sell 260,000 units, or 6.5 percent more vehicles from a year earlier, in the market this year. Still, Toyota's luxury brand lags behind BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
"Setting aside what the company's target for Lexus sales is, it would be great if Lexus can really regain its momentum and outperform BMW in volume sales," BNP Paribas's Sugimoto said.
In 2012, BMW and Mercedes-Benz outsold the Lexus brand for a second straight year in the U.S. BMW sales increased 8.2 percent to 113,357 units in the five months ended May, while Mercedes-Benz led the U.S. luxury-auto market with 117,535 vehicles, up 11 percent.
Toyota also plans to increase the portion of cars made in the U.S. for sale in the country to 75 percent from the current 70 percent level, Lentz said.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report.