DETROIT -- Toyota isn't ready to cede any ground in small pickups.
The automaker, which commands nearly two-thirds of the segment in the United States, will unveil a redesigned Tacoma pickup in January at the Detroit auto show, and it expects rising sales in 2015 and beyond, even though growth in the segment has been slow.
Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager, said he thinks the introduction of new entries in the segment -- the redesigned Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon -- will spur interest and demand.
"With the new entries coming in, the market should expand," Fay said.
Toyota is so confident that it is expanding to three-crew, three-shift production in April at the Baja California, Mexico, plant that builds the Tacoma. Toyota also builds the Tacoma at its truck plant in San Antonio.
Small pickups have long posed tough business decisions for automakers. The companies prefer to devote development and marketing resources to full-size pickups, which generate bigger profits. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group have exited the business in the U.S., leaving the Tacoma to dominate the market.
In the first 11 months of the year, Toyota sold 140,757 Tacomas, accounting for 66 percent of compact pickup sales but down 4 percent from a year earlier. Total U.S. small-pickup sales rose just 3 percent over that period, to 214,523. Nearly nine times as many full-size pickups were sold.
Even so, Bob Carter, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s senior vice president of automotive operations, said that dealers want more Tacomas and that inventories of the truck have been tight, in the range of a 20-day supply.
Based on that, Carter said, the Tacoma launch is "a very safe investment."