Toyota appears poised to shatter a statistical milestone next year and claim 10% of the US market, 42 years after selling its first car there, Automotive News said.

Toyota and Lexus combined achieved 10.2% of US light-vehicle sales in November, lifting Toyota Motor Sales USA's share for the year to 9.2%. If that rate holds this month, 2000 will mark the first time Toyota Motor passes the 9% mark.

The newspaper said that industry analysts expect the company to top 10% next year as Toyota outperforms its rivals while industry sales soften.

In November, Toyota Motor sales rose 4.6%, while the US industry fell 3.4%. Toyota's single-month share topped 10% one other time this year, in January, at 10.6%.

Automotive News said that Jim Press, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales, last week downplayed Toyota's market share climb. He shrugged off this year's gains to some new products — such as the large Sequoia sport utility.

"Those vehicles allowed us to have increased share at a time the industry was declining," Press said. "Only because we had new products do we show an increase."

Despite the recent sales slump, industry sales are still up 3.9% this year. Toyota's sales, though, have jumped 9.7%.

More new Toyotas go on sale in the US in 2001. In the spring, the company will begin selling the Highlander, a Toyota version of the highly successful Lexus RX 300 sport wagon. Next fall, Toyota introduces a redesigned Camry, the nation's best-selling car.

Press said he expects Toyota's share to stabilize at about 10%, but he shied from making projections beyond that.

Before he took command of the company in early 1999, though, Press was less circumspect. He boldly predicted sales of 1.5 million units in 2000. And the company will pass that mark this month.

"We missed it," he joked to Automotive News last week. "We were a little bit more than that."

Analysts interviewed by the newspaper cited several reasons why Toyota can hold 10% next year: it has a long history of consistent growth, even in down years; new high-volume trucks are entering the model range and the US market continues to swing to trucks; the Toyota and Lexus brands are entering several new segments not targeted by Asian automakers (the Sequoia, for example, should allow Toyota to grow without cannibalizing sales from existing sport-utilities); and North American plants are slated for production increases as new plants, such as the Sequoia plant in Princeton, Indiana, come on stream.

Wes Brown, an analyst with NexTrend in Thousand Oaks, California, predicts Toyota will hit 10% exactly next year: "I see their sales going up minimally next year but in a market that drops 1 million units," he said. "To be flat in that sort of market means gaining share."

Brown expects Toyota's gains to come primarily at the expense of the Big Three, Automotive News said.