DETROIT — Toyota's Georgetown, Ky., factory, the largest in the company's network, makes cars, cars and more cars — close to a half-million Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES sedans last year.
That's a potentially awkward situation for a new plant leader in the midst of a pronounced shift in the U.S. marketplace away from sedans, toward trucks and crossovers.
But Susan Elkington, who was named president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky effective Jan. 1, sees no slowdown ahead.
"One of the plus things in a sedan market is we have fresh product," she told Automotive News on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show. "The Camry in 2017, for the 16th year in a row, was the No. 1 selling car, and now we have the Avalon coming up."
Toyota took the wraps off the fifth-generation Avalon in Detroit, taking the car in a more sporty direction both in looks and driving dynamics, but not so far as to alienate loyalists. For the first time in the large sedan, there are distinct sport models separate from more subdued cruisers.
That strategy, Elkington said, will help the Avalon appeal to a broader swath of customers and keep the factory line humming.
Next up for a redesign is the Lexus ES, the only Lexus vehicle made in the U.S.
All three vehicles share the same basic platform.
While Camry sales were down just 0.4 percent last year, the Avalon fell by nearly one-third and the ES was off by 12 percent.
Another plus for the Kentucky plant is an ongoing $1.3 billion renovation to produce vehicles on a modular platform known as Toyota New Global Architecture, allowing the plant to produce different kinds of vehicles — including crossovers should the need arise.
"We have to be flexible at our facility, and the new TNGA structure of the vehicles plus the upgrades that we've done at the plant will give us more flexibility in the future," Elkington said.
Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor North America CEO, said that he wasn't concerned about Georgetown's product mix because Camry sales were holding up but that Toyota was keeping a close eye on the situation for any signs that it could slip into undercapacity.
The Kentucky plant also makes six-cylinder and four-cylinder engines, and its stamping and plastics facility sends parts to other Toyota factories in the U.S. So there's plenty of work for the factory's 8,000 employees.
"I think everyone will see sedans aren't going anywhere anytime soon," Elkington said.