Toyota North America CEO Says Cars Are Not Dead

The redesigned Toyota Supra, back in Toyota's lineup after 17 years.

Is the passenger car a thing of the past, at least in the U.S.? If you’re watching sales and manufacturing trends as well as numbers in recent years, you might be forgiven in making that assumption. Automakers are trimming cars from the lineups at a breathtaking pace. Ford announced last year it was discontinuing the manufacture of most of its sedans, reporting that 90 percent of its North American sales consist of SUVs, trucks and commercial vehicles. Late last year, GM announced it will be shuttering production at five North American factories, most of which were producing sedans and sedan parts.

There remains a question, however: do buyers really want larger vehicles, or do manufacturers want buyers to want larger vehicles? (See CAI’s article “Do Car Buyers Really Want Larger Vehicles?”)

At the ongoing International Auto Show in Detroit, however, there is at least one optimistic voice. Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz says he believes cars still have a future, as demonstrated by the company’s re-introduction of the Supra sports car. Toyota has not built the Supra since 2002.

“We still have SUVs but we still believe in passenger cars,” Lentz told FOX Business’ Jeff Flock on Monday from the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  “The industry is about 70 percent light truck – we’re only 62 percent. We’re always going to skew a little heavier towards passenger than the rest of the industry.”

Lentz said that success with cars in the future will be about making vehicles that are fun to drive, at least for Toyota.

“When you think of Toyota, what first pops into your mind is quality, dependability, reliability and safety. This [new Supra] creates that halo of fun,” he told Flock.

In truth, Toyota’s current lineup is heavier on sedans than most automakers: while car makers on average have turned their production to 70 percent light trucks, the figure for Toyota is only 62 percent. For years, the Toyota Corolla was one of the best-selling cars on Earth.

In an effort to tease out whether Toyota has any plans for North American plant shutdowns in the future, Flock asked Lentz about the health of the U.S.-based Toyota facilities that produce sedans.

“Our passenger car plants in Kentucky: one line is 85 percent, the other’s 90 percent,” said Lentz. “Mississippi [plant] that builds Corollas is at 78 percent. The new Corolla is going to go to 98 percent. So, we’re in really good shape,” said Lentz.