Make no mistake: With the exception of the low-volume Toyota Supra sporty coupe and Lexus LC convertible, each of Toyota Motor North America's sedans and coupes is hemorrhaging sales this year, just like those of all the other automakers still selling them.
This year, Toyota scrapped the Yaris, a rebadged Mazda2, and sales volumes throughout the Toyota and Lexus car lineups are down at least 15 percent and some double or triple that. And, Carter said, the proportion of car sales may continue to slide even further.
"Operationally," Carter said, "it could go to 78 or maybe even 80 percent light truck, and then start leveling off at that point. But as a global manufacturer, and in what we're responsible for in North America, 20 percent of a 16 million market is still a lot of vehicles."
A year after proclaiming that "cars matter," executives at American Honda have decided that light trucks may matter a little more, at least right now. This fall, Honda launched a plan to beef up its light-truck lineup to broaden their appeal. But the automaker said in October that it still sees a valuable role for cars.
"The cars both in the Acura line and the Honda line get many first-time buyers," said Art St. Cyr, vice president of automobile operations at American Honda Motor Co. "Then we can move them up to light trucks."
Several manufacturers have eliminated nameplates because of the struggling North American market for sedans and coupes, such as Volkswagen officials confirming that the Passat would sunset after the current model and Ford ending the Fusion. But Toyota and Lexus will continue to invest in their car lineups, Carter said, even as they expand crossover offerings — including the return of the Venza this year and a new subcompact crossover due next year.
Toyota freshened the Camry this year, and a redesign of the low-volume 86 is due next year, according to sources that guided the Automotive News Future Product series. On the Lexus side, the IS sedan was reengineered in 2020, while the LS is due for a midcycle freshening in 2021.
"There is volume there. That is a very good business model for us," Carter said of the smaller market for sedans and coupes. "There's not the hypercompetition that we experienced [before], so there's margin to be made.
"So, are we going to continue in the sedan market and continue to invest in sedan market? Absolutely," Carter said. "What are our plans? No comment."