Toyota Motor Corp. expects industrywide U.S. auto sales to slow for the second straight year in 2007, with a rebound beginning in 2008, the company's U.S. sales chief said on Wednesday.

The Japanese automaker expects sales of 16.3 million vehicles this year, down 2 percent from 16.6 million in 2006. Sales in 2005 were just short of 17 million vehicles.

We're projecting industry sales this year of about 16.3 million vehicles, down slightly from last year but still a very decent year, Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said at an industry conference.

While U.S. automakers had held out hope for flat or slightly higher sales this year, a downturn that began in the spring has convinced both General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. to review their more optimistic outlooks.

Ford said on Tuesday in a quarterly filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had lowered its sales projection to a range of 16.5 million to 16.8 million vehicles, citing weak July sales and a downturn in the U.S. housing market.

It's hard to pinpoint the market's current softness, said Lentz. Higher fuel prices? The housing slowdown? Lower fleet sales? Some payback from the incentives of the past? Who knows?

He said Toyota expects U.S. auto sales to rebound in 2008, followed by steady growth into the next decade.

He said Toyota, which is expected to overtake GM this year as the world's largest automaker in terms of global sales, sees U.S. industrywide sales growing by 100,000 vehicles or more annually and reaching 18 million a year before 2020.

We're bullish because the United States population is booming and key economic drivers -- like GDP, job growth, productivity and inflation -- are positive, Lentz said.