DETROIT -- Toyota Motor Corp. is betting that small pickup trucks are going to become big sellers.
The automaker plans to unveil a redesigned Tacoma truck at the Detroit auto show in January, and is expecting rising sales in 2015 and beyond, even though overall growth in the small-truck segment has been slow.
“It has been a flat segment,” Bill Fay, general manager of the company’s Toyota division, acknowledged in an interview. But he said he thinks the introduction of new models in the segment -- General Motors just relaunched its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon for the 2015 model year -- will spur interest and demand.
“With the new entries coming in, the market should expand,” Fay said.
In fact, Toyota is working to increase Tacoma production. The Baja California, Mexico, plant that builds the small truck is scheduled go to three-crew, three-shift production in April.
The Tacoma already dominates what’s left of the small-truck segment. In the first 11 months of the year, Toyota sold 140,747 Tacomas, enough to account for 66 percent of all compact pickup sales, but down 4 percent from the same 11 months of 2013.
But total small-pickup sales were up just 2.7 percent over that period, at 214,523 units. Sales of full-size trucks, meanwhile, rose at a 6.6 percent clip, to 2.1 million units.
Bob Carter, senior vice president of Toyota’s U.S. sales operations, said the automaker remains undeterred and doesn’t see the Tacoma launch and production increase as risky moves.
“I believe you can draw the wrong conclusions just from looking at total [segment] sales,” he said. He added that dealers are asking for increased Tacoma supply and that inventories of the truck have been tight, in the range of a 20-day supply.
Based on that, the Tacoma launch is “a very safe investment,” Carter said.
Small pickup trucks have long presented automakers with tough business decisions. They prefer to sell full-size trucks, which generate much bigger profits, and equip them with the latest innovations and earmark the biggest marketing budgets to pitch them. Over the years, as sales of full-size trucks and SUVs boomed, the small-truck segment has dwindled.
Both Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler have exited the business, ending sales of the Ranger and Dodge Dakota, respectively.
GM also halted production of the Colorado and Canyon after the 2012 model year, but has reintroduced the vehicles, partly to appeal to truck buyers willing to accept less power and payload capacity in exchange for higher fuel economy.