Mr. Lentz said the industry will show modest sales gains in part the result of restructuring moves made earlier by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group. His projection is counter to what other experts have said would be a flat year, with the industry selling 16 million units, or slightly less in 2007 than the 16.4 million units sold in 2006.
Mr. Lentz also estimated that U.S. automakers could see annual sales jump to as high as 18 million units in the next decade, due to a population boom and a slew of new models.
He outlined America's five major population groups that will fuel industry sales. The "traditionals," those born before 1945, will represent roughly 10% of the driving population between now and 2015. Baby boomers, numbering 78 million strong, will still account for a third of all American drivers. He cited findings by CNW Marketing Research that half of the 13 cars the average American buys in his or her lifetime are bought after the head of the household turns 50. In the next three years, he said 60% of the U.S. population will be 50 or older.
The youngest generations
Generation X, said Mr. Lentz, is 61 million strong and buying more than a fifth of all new vehicles every year. The young adults in Generation Y, who started getting their driver's licenses in 1996, will represent 4.5 million new drivers every year over the next 14 years and already have roughly $200 billion in buying power. The oldest members of Generation Z, now 48 million strong, are 12 years old, with an estimated $18 billion in direct buying power.
"For the first time in history, around 2011, five different generations will be our customers all at once and they will continue positively to impact our business through most of the next decade," Mr. Lentz said.
He hinted that Toyota would sell a mini premium car in the U.S. to meet the needs of Americans, mostly younger people, who are moving back to cities.