Toyota Truly Believes 2018 Camry Will Do For Midsize Sedans What Tacoma Did For Midsize Trucks; Kentucky Plant Employment At All-Time High
Excited at the prospect of an all-new midsize sedan despite a drastic decrease in demand for midsize sedans, Toyota is ramping up employment at the Camry’s assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky.
With 700 additional manufacturing workers helping to launch the 2018 Toyota Camry, employment at Toyota’s Kentucky facility grew to 8,000, more than at any point in the plant’s three-decade history.
Toyota also builds Avalons and Lexus ES350s in Georgetown. (The Venza, a former Georgetown wagon, is dead.) But it’s the Camry, especially this all-new 2018 Camry, that will bring glory to the Kentucky plant if glory can indeed be brought.
Jack Hollis, the Toyota division’s group vice president and general manager, strongly believes the Camry is the beginning of a pro-sedan wave in America. In an extended interview with Autoline, Hollis spoke highly of the 2018 Camry’s potential, and of the potential for the entire car sector once the Camry stimulates demand.
“I think you’re going to see the entire sedan market pick up,” Hollis told Autoline, before hedging only a bit. “We’ll see a year from now.”
Indeed, the presumed pick-up will take time to measure. The new Camry will be followed shortly by an all-new, 10th-generation Accord, a car about which Honda — notoriously secretive — is gradually leaking details in order to engender a measure of hype. We expect to see a new Nissan Altima shortly thereafter. At that point, the three best-selling midsize sedans in America, already improving their market share at the end of their respective lifecycles, will be the newest members of the fleet, poised for even greater dominance in the segment.
But how much higher will the SUV/crossover sector have climbed by the time the new Camry and new Accord can establish renewed interest in the sedan bodystyle? Through the first five months of 2017, passenger cars are down to 37 percent market share thanks to the loss of more than 300,000 sales. SUVs/crossovers, meanwhile, have produced nearly 200,000 additional sales and have increased their share of the overall market to 41 percent; the two categories essentially swapped places over the span of just twelve months.
In the Camry’s case, Toyota believes the new sedan can do for midsize cars what the Toyota Tacoma did for midsize trucks, at least in a sense. While many small/midsize truck nameplates faded away, the Tacoma held steady. Then, even as General Motors re-inserted its nose into the small/midsize arena, the Tacoma produced greater sales — not fewer — and then ballooned when a new model was launched.
2015 was the best year ever for U.S. Tacoma sales, until the Tacoma smashed that record in 2016. With plenty of help from competitors, midsize pickup truck sales jumped 40 percent in 2015 and a further 26 percent in 2016.
“That’s why I believe the same thing will happen here,” Toyota’s Hollis says, referring to the midsize sedan segment. “Do I think that we’re going to go from a market of two-thirds/one-third SUV to car and reverse it or flatten it? No, not at all.”
But Hollis believes that the 37 percent market share currently attributed to cars is a floor and will tilt back up.
“People want choice,” Hollis contends. Toyota, with a vast car portfolio and a huge utility vehicle network and a minivan and a pair of pickup trucks, offers plenty of that.
Toyota doesn’t just expect to see improvement from the Camry and its cohorts. Hollis considers the scenario to be critical. “The sales volume we have has gotta continue to be my number one focus,” Hollis says,”because I want those sales so we can continue to take that money and invest in products for the future.”
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.
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