No, the midsize family sedan isn't in free fall. It's just in a midcycle crisis.
That's the view from Bob Carter, senior vice president for automotive operations at Toyota's U.S. arm. Across the segment -- which includes the best-selling car in the country, the Toyota Camry -- there isn't enough fresh iron to excite consumers and keep them from defecting to utility vehicles, he said.
"Midsize cars, midsize sedans, haven't had a lot of product news as of late," Carter told Automotive News ahead of a meeting with dealers in Las Vegas. "Product news tends to put a shot of adrenaline into segments. We see this time and time again."
A big test of that analysis will come with the Camry, which was down 8.6 percent in U.S. sales through August but is getting ready for a big overhaul and a move to Toyota's New Global Architecture -- probably for the 2018 model year, spy photos suggest. The changes will provide that dose of excitement, Carter said.
"All of our unibody products from here on out are all new platforms, and those platforms -- they're lower, wider and look great, they're getting better mpg, better performance," he said. "The new TNGA product is shocking."
Carter offered no clues on when the new model will hit.
Meanwhile, he said, Toyota is making strides to improve its supply of the vehicles that buyers want right now, mostly small crossovers such as the RAV4, which it builds in Woodstock, Ontario, and Japan.
"I think the dealers are going to be very satisfied with our production capacities," Carter said.
As for supplies of pickup trucks, he said, "we have a little bit of work to do."
Indeed, Toyota's two pickup plants, in San Antonio and Tijuana, Mexico, are running up hard against their capacity limits and straining to meet strong demand from dealers and consumers. Any significant increase to supply would likely require Toyota to invest in new production capacity at one of those plants.
As for the industry at large, Carter said he is very upbeat on the overall sales climate despite the talk in some corners of dark skies ahead.
"Overall, while the growth of the industry may be slowing down, we have a lot of confidence," he said, citing economic indicators such as good consumer confidence and low interest rates. "Our outlook is pretty bright over the next 24 months."
The market in coming years may not perform as well as this year -- which will come in at between 17.3 million and 17.4 million units in Carter's estimation -- but it likely won't be far off that pace, he said.
"We're going to be in the upper 16s, mid-17s for many more months to go," Carter said.
He did have some product news for dealers: a planned rollout of an advanced safety suite as standard equipment across 18 Toyota models by the end of the model year.
"On everything from Corollas to Tundras, we'll have automatic braking, lane-departure alert and assist, and automatic high beam," said Carter, adding that consumers across all segments and all demographics consider such safety equipment to be "in the top three of purchase considerations."