Toyota NA Chief: Truck, SUV sales stay strong in March

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Toyota Motor North American CEO Jim Lentz said March auto sales are strong as buyers continue to favor light trucks over cars.

In a Detroit News interview Tuesday in Washington, Lentz said automakers face a challenge as trucks and SUV sales remain strong. “The biggest challenge is everybody is kind of draining their pipeline of light trucks and SUVs and everybody’s a little heavier on passenger cars and I don’t know if that’s going to change,” Lentz said. “The demand right now, the sales volume is almost 55 percent truck and SUV — the true demand may be a few points higher — just because inventories are low.”

In February, industry car sales fell 1.4 percent as light truck sales were up 12 percent. Larger SUVs had an especially strong month.

Lentz said no decision has been made on whether the Japanese automaker will open a new $1 billion assembly plant in Mexico to build a future version of the Corolla to begin production in 2019. Reuters reported earlier this week the the company was “finalizing plans for its first passenger car assembly plant in Mexico that could be approved by its board as early as next month.”

“We have nothing to announce. We’ve talked for quite a while of when there’s need for additional capacity, we will look —whether it is in the U.S., whether’s it’s in Canada, whether it’s in Mexico. There are still studies that we are looking at but nothing’s been decided,” Lentz said.

Toyota last opened a North American assembly plant in 2011 in Blue Springs, Mississippi.

A growing number of automakers are expanding in Mexico or opening new plants in part because free trade agreements and lower wages and benefits make Mexico an attractive place to build cars.

Lentz was in Washington along with other Toyota executives and employees for an annual trip to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress.