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Toyota sees U.S. car sales up slightly in Q2

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. auto industry sales are expected to be equal to or slightly better in the second quarter than the first three months of the year, Toyota Motor Corp’s (7203.T) U.S. sales chief said on Wednesday.

“We will start seeing a gradual rise in car sales,” Toyota Motor Sales USA President Jim Lentz said in an interview on the sidelines of the New York Auto Show. “Recovery will be in 2010.”

Lentz said U.S. auto industry sales in April so far have been similar to March.

“We are not seeing an increase but we are also not seeing a drop-off,” he said.

Automakers reported sales approaching a 9.9 million vehicle annualized rate in March, a bump up from rates seen in the first two months of the year, but still far below the 15.1 million rate a year earlier.

The sales rate during the first quarter was 9.5 million units.

Auto industry sales could rise by at least 1 million vehicles in 2010, though demand could be boosted further in the near term if the United States adopts fleet modernization incentives, he said.

“All this will change if we see some kind of fleet modernization,” Lentz said of sales projections.

He also said that a German program that encourages owners to turn in older vehicles could be a good model for the United States to follow. The so-called scrappage program in Germany has driven that country’s sales up sharply in recent months.

In a wide-ranging interview, Lentz said Toyota has no plans at present to match the incentive programs of General Motors Corp (GM.N) and Ford Motor Co (F.N) which cover car payments in case of job loss.

“We are really listening to our dealers, and thus far they are telling us that it’s really not a discussion on the showroom floors,” Lentz said.

John Paul Strong

John Paul Strong combines his two decades of automotive marketing experience with a team of more than 150 professionals as owner and CEO of Strong Automotive.

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