Scott County

Toyota official says U.S. production levels won't drop this year

YORK TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Toyota Motor Corp.'s top U.S. sales executive said Thursday that the company won't impose more production cuts this year despite a sales slump that might not end until after next year.

Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the company inventories for cars, many of which are produced in Georgetown, are below the optimal 45-day supply. Truck inventories are a little high, but Lentz said he expects that to fall in line by the end of the year. In August, Toyota furloughed workers at its Tundra pickup plant in Texas because of slow sales. Lentz says they will return to work as scheduled in November.

That doesn't mean Toyota is preparing for sales to return to normal levels anytime soon.

"We're in a very, very difficult industry now," Lentz told reporters after a ceremony dedicating a new safety and engineering center near Ann Arbor. "What makes the industry most difficult right now is consumer confidence."

Consumers, particularly car and truck buyers, have cut back spending as the worldwide financial crisis has brought down stock markets across the globe and caused a tightening of credit that is hurting auto sales. Toyota posted a 32 percent drop in U.S. sales in September as monthly sales industrywide fell below 1 million for the first time in 15 years.

But Lentz said credit availability isn't the problem for Toyota because its financial arm is making loans as usual.

Toyota last week announced zero-percent financing on most of its model lineup as it tries to boost sales.

Lentz also said he doesn't see any Toyota dealers going out of business because of the financial crisis. The National Automobile Dealers Association has predicted that 700 dealers nationwide will cease operations this year.