CHICAGO – Toyota remains keen on cars, Edward Laukes, the Japanese brand’s marketing vice president-North America, says here at a breakfast kicking off the Chicago Auto Show.
“We still believe in the car business,” he says. “We’re doubling down on that.”
But at auto show-related Toyota events, it’s all about light trucks. At an off-site reception, the automaker unveils special “Nightshade” editions of its Tundra fullsize pickup, Tacoma midsize pickup and Sequoia midsize SUV.
Following his breakfast appearance, Laukes hosts a show-floor news conference that shows off the upcoming high-trim Highlander XSE midsize CUV and beefed-up trail editions of the Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner SUV.
The Highlander was among the leaders of the crowded midsize CUV segment with 24 players in the U.S. last year.
No.1 was the Honda CR-V with 379,013 deliveries, followed by the Chevrolet Equinox (332,618) and Ford Escape (272,228), according to Wards Intelligence. The Highlander took the No.4 spot (239,436). (Highlander XSE interior, left)
If Toyota is doubling down on cars, it’s placing even bigger bets on its eight pickups, CUVs and SUVs as the market shifts to light trucks. Those accounted for about 70% of U.S. vehicle sales last year. Various predictions say that will increase to between 72% and 75% this year.
Still, Laukes says that in a 16 million-unit sales year (a conservative estimate considering U.S. light-vehicle sales have surpassed 17 million for five straight years), that works out to 4 million car deliveries.
“We’ll take that 4 million,” Laukes says. Well, not all of it.
General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler have significantly retreated from the car market. That means less competition for the automakers – such as Toyota, Honda and Hyundai – who remain active in car segments.
Toyota offers eight autos, ranging from the Avalon sedan to the Supra sports car.
Laukes predicts the Avalon, Camry midsize sedan and Corolla compact in particular will sell well.
“A lot of regions like cars, including California,” he says of the U.S. state with the most vehicle sales.