DETROIT (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp's (7203.T) production of trucks and SUVs will rise slightly by mid-2016 as it adapts to U.S. consumer tastes, several of its executives said in an interview on Thursday.
Toyota's full-size pickup truck, Tundra, is down to about 20 days of supply, and its 1,232 U.S. dealers have only 10 days' supply of the Tacoma, the automaker's mid-size truck, according to Bob Carter, senior vice president for U.S. Toyota operations, and Bill Fay, head of the U.S. Toyota brand, in an interview with Reuters.
"If you were to ask any of our U.S. dealers what they want, I'd say every one of them would say 'More trucks,'" Carter said.
More production is on the way after the recent addition of a third shift of workers at a plant in Baja California, Mexico, that makes the Tacoma, and the addition of about 250 workers and a more flexible work schedule at its San Antonio, Texas, plant that makes the Tacoma and the Tundra, Carter and Fay said.
The new workers and extra production will be in place in San Antonio by the middle of next year, Fay said.
A big focus in 2015 has been the U.S. auto industry's shift away from traditional sedans and toward SUVs, particularly smaller models like the Toyota RAV4, the Honda Motor Co (7267.T) CR-V and the Ford Motor Co (F.N) Escape.
Nearly 59 percent of U.S. vehicle sales this year have been of SUVs or pickup trucks, up from 54 percent last year, according to industry consultant Autodata Corp. Most of that gain in market share is due to small SUVs, also known as crossover vehicles.
The shifting tastes of American consumers toward SUVs will express itself as early as 2017, Carter said, when the RAV4 will displace the Camry mid-size sedan as the company's top-seller in the U.S. market.
"It may be as soon as two years, but I can comfortably say that in three years, RAV4 will be our No. 1 seller" in the United States, said Carter.
Camry will remain the automaker's top-selling sedan as well as the country's, he added. The Camry has been the best-selling, non-pickup truck model in the U.S. market for 13 years running.
Toyota will collectively sell about 290,000 Tundras and Tacomas in the United States this year, Fay said, and will exceed 300,000 in 2016 with the boost in production.
He would not specify exactly how many more they expect to sell next year. But Carter said that Toyota would like to have between 45 and 55 days of supply of their two pickups.
(This version of the story corrects the number of new workers in San Antonio to 250 from 800 in paragraph four.)
Reporting by Bernie Woodall, editing by G Crosse