The US auto industry is facing tough times and will not likely recover until 2010, a senior Toyota executive said on Thursday.
"We're in for a rough patch," Bob Carter, vice president in charge of Toyota's US sales, told an automotive conference.
"We think the recovery will be shaped more like a Nike swoosh with gradual improvement in 2009 and then steady progress into 2010 as our economic fundamentals regain solid footing."
US auto sales have plummeted this year amid high petrol prices and an economic downturn. Carter predicted they would hit just 14.5 million vehicles in 2008, down about 12% from last year and well off recent norms of 16 to 17 million.
Toyota expects to continue to gain US market share this year and is boosting production of its fuel efficient models which are currently in very short supply, Carter said.
But the Japanese automaker will likely see its sales decline by about 6% to about 2.45 million vehicles, Carter told reporters, noting that this could be the first time in 18 years Toyota did not post a sales gain in the United States.
"With costs rising, energy shrinking and environmental concerns rising, we have to respond quickly," Carter told a conference sponsored by the Center for Automotive Research in Traverse City, Michigan.
"We have to radically revamp our lineups, create cleaner technology, and work with others to develop new energy, new fuelling stations and smarter roads."
Carter said that while Toyota is "still quite bullish on the industry's long-term outlook" and expects US sales to top 17 million a year "in the not too distant future," the industry as a whole is "not ready" to meet new regulations on fuel efficiency and emissions.
"There's got to be an immense amount of change in the industry by the middle of the decade," Carter told reporters on the sidelines of the conference.
"We need to rollout more hybrids and continue to perfect ethanol clean diesel electric cars fuel cells and other alternatives."
Toyota recently announced plans to build its popular Prius hybrid in the United States at a Mississippi plant which will open in late 2010.
The plant, which was originally slated to produce a sport utility vehicle, has a capacity of 150 000 units a year but Toyota has not set a target yet for Prius production.