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Toyota executive: U.S. sales trending upward

Toyota Motor Sales USA president and CEO Jim Lentz sounded optimistic Tuesday about the future of the automotive industry.

Lentz was speaking at the National Automobile Dealers Association’s Western Automotive Conference in Los Angeles.

Lentz cited industry data that projected total U.S. sales for all automakers in 2012 would reach 14.3 million vehicles, which would be an increase of about 500,000 from 2011. Lentz listed pent-up demand as one of the market conditions driving up sales.

“In the U.S., there are more than 245 million cars on the road, and the average age of these vehicles has hit a record high of 11 years old. More than 20-percent of these cars are over 16 years old. Second, car loans have never been cheaper. Banks are charging the lowest interest rates since the Federal Reserve began its survey of loans over four decades ago. Third, and the best news, the J.D. Power Information Network says younger buyers are returning to the market at a higher rate than any other age category, which bodes well for market longevity.”

A large portion of those returning buyers, Lentz said, will be Hispanics. Lentz cited industry research whose results showed the U .S. Hispanic population will have $1.5 trillion in buying power by 2015.

Lentz also touched on a number of safety initiatives Toyota has going. The company partnered with the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute to conduct a distracted driving study that involved 5,500 teens and adults. The study’s preliminary results found that teens’ distracted driving habits are an emulation of their parents’ behavior. The results also showed that teens texted while driving 26 times more than their parents thought they did.

“As a father, one of the key takeaways I got from the study is, you need to be the driver you want your teen to be,” Lentz said.

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