Could Toyota Motor Corp. become even more dominant than it already is in the midsize-car segment?
Yes, says its top U.S. official, who predicts the Prius hybrid-electric vehicle may soon usurp the Camry in annual sales.
“I think long-term, Prius as a nameplate could even outsell Camry as a nameplate, into this next decade,” Jim Lentz, president-Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. tells Ward's in a recent interview.
But Lentz doesn't believe the Camry, the top-selling passenger-car in the U.S. for 11 of the last 12 years, will lose ground. “I think Prius will become just that much stronger,” he says, thanks to rising gas prices and greater eco awareness.
Still, the Prius has a long way to go to overtake Camry in the U.S.
Camry deliveries through October totaled 294,493 units vs. the Prius' 118,290, Ward's data shows.
Toyota typically sells more than 400,000 Camrys in the U.S. annually, although sales this year likely will fall short of that number. Toyota's all-time Camry sales record stands at 473,108 units, set in 2007. The Prius' all-time sales record is 181,221 units, also reached in 2007.
Lentz predicts Prius demand this year will reach roughly 140,000 units.
Contrary to reports, a range of Prius models is not official and “still my dream,” Lentz says, noting he makes a business case for the idea every time he ventures to Japan to meet with TMC's top brass.
Company officials are fearful an expanded Prius line would cannibalize sales of Toyota's other hybrids.