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Best days for Toyota's U.S. market share look over for now

A visitor looks at a Toyota Motor's car at the company show room in Tokyo May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino
A visitor looks at a Toyota Motor's car at the company show room in Tokyo May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> said it is unlikely to recapture its peak market share it held four years ago in the United States, its biggest market, the latest sign the Japanese carmaker is shifting from aggressively expanding sales to improving quality.

Toyota, the third best-selling carmaker in the United States after General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co , is likely to earn market share of 14 to under 17 percent in the future, Senior Managing Officer Jim Lentz said on Wednesday. Toyota's share for the five months to May was 14.2 percent.

"I think we had some tailwinds that were very, very unique, so I'm not sure if 17 percent is a realistic number," Lentz told reporters in Nagoya, Japan. "But somewhere between today's 14 (percent) and that number, I think we will continue to grow."

The comments by Lentz, who is also Toyota's CEO of North America, is the latest sign of Toyota's attitude shift to improving quality from expanding sales as President Akio Toyoda blames the company's growth spurt of the past decade as a factor that contributed to a recall crisis from 2009 to 2010.

Toyota's U.S. share peaked in 2009 at 17.0 percent as American rivals faced or neared bankruptcy following the global financial crisis. It had outsold Ford and was at No.2 after General Motors. In 2012 Toyota's U.S. market share was at 14.4 percent, recovering from 12.9 percent in 2011 following a disruption of its supply chains after a huge quake and tsunami hit Japan.

Toyoda, the 57-year-old president and the grandson of the company's founder, has been trying to bring the carmaker back to its traditional focus on quality and cost cuts from every aspect of building cars. He also named foreigners as regional heads for the first time to speed up local decision-making.

In April, Toyoda named Lentz, a 30-year veteran at Toyota in the United States, as the first American to head the Japanese carmaker's North American business. He is among the four foreigners out of the company's eight regional heads.

Toyota, which is expected to start selling in the fall its new model of the popular Corolla compact, is on target to sell 2.2 million vehicles in the United States in 2013, up 6 percent year-on-year, Lentz said.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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