We chat with Toyota Motor North America’s CEO in Detroit

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Jim Lentz has been Toyota’s top American executive for more than a decade, calmly guiding the Toyota, Lexus, and Scion brands through the recession and into the current boom. Lentz spoke to Motor Trend at the Detroit auto show in January.
We had to move all K-platform vehicles toward the northern part of the US, the C-platform vehicles to the south, and trucks in the southwest. We moved to Corolla out of Canada to Guanajuato, Mexico, to make room for more RAVs. And we used our Baja plant for more Tacomas, which we were building at a 60,000-unit annual rate in December. The pickup market continues to grow, so we needed more At the same time, there was an opportunity with Mazda. The quickest way to make this happen was to move Tacoma production to Guanajuato. That solved our most pressing need. We have Mississippi building 165,000, and the new joint venture in Alabama will build 150,000 more. (Mazda gets the other 150,000 from the Alabama plant.) So we have 310,000 capacity in North America. Either we need to find a way to build a few more depending on demand, or we get a few from Japan. We think that’s the right long-term sustainable Corolla number.
The biggest thing is the philosophy of the two companies. They are both headquartered in an area where they’ve been for a long time. We’re in Nagoya, and Mazda is having the 100th anniversary of being in Hiroshima in 2020. Mazda is a company that really loves cars and loves driving cars. That’s a good match for us and for (Toyota Motor CEO and company scion) Akio (Toyoda). The head of Mazda and Akio really hit it off. Mazda is part of a mobility group working with us on the e-Palette (concept), along with Uber, Amazon, and Pizza Hut. And they are working with Denso, working on the fundamentals of EV platforms. This has evolved over time.
Last year, we sold 407,000 RAVs including Canada, and Camry was 387,000. The shift from passenger cars to light trucks been shifting 3-4 percentage points a year. That’s going to slow, but there still will be some movement. Obviously the big growth has been in the small SUV segment, and I do not see that slowing down. I still think they will be red hot. If any one segment has surprised me it was entry (subcompact) SUV. I thought it would have been hotter, but it also shows people know the value of the (compact) SUV.
Toyota has shown some interesting, rugged small SUV concepts such as the FT-4X. Do you see a return of an FJ Cruiser-type vehicle?

There’s room for an authentic small off-road SUV. Everyone moved out of that segment because of truck CAFE ratings, but the 4Runner continues to do well in its segment. But we’re getting a lot of requests from folks who want another FJ or some of our concepts are along those lines. We’ll see how market testing goes. As all these SUVs get larger, and we see proliferation in the overall SUV segment-there is room on the lower end in terms of price or this will be for people going outdoors but truly going off-road. This would not be about all-wheel drive for safety; this would be be The difference is in wheel travel, and you can only do that with frame-based. This could is FJ-sized, but for an enthusiast, it’s gotta be something with a small wheelbase to be more maneuverable when in the rocks. We’ll do some testing with small concepts.

Where does the SUV trend leave the 4Runner and Sequoia?

Most SUVs have gone car-based because they needed to get lighter. There’s market demand for frame-based SUVs, but we have to crunch all the CAFE numbers to see if there’s room for them in our lineup. 4Runner continues to do well, but the softest segment is for big SUVs, where Sequoia is. It’s been OK but not great because the midsize SUV rear-seat packages are so good, and the size has gotten bigger. If you have a large family and a lot of cargo, you gotta go large. But the segment was flat, but midsize was up 6.5 percent and small was up 8.9 percent. But entry SUV was down 1.3.

BMW has already shown its Z4, which will be shared with a Toyota sports car. Anything you want to say about the new Supra?

We have no announcements yet. This is the longest introduction in the history of mankind.
Toyota held back from having having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto infotainment in its cars. But the 2019 Avalon will have CarPlay. What changed?

Everyone wants to control the center stack of the car. When you look at who’s responsible for the safety of the center stack, it’s on the OEM. So we need to control it. Apple understands that need.

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