By Nick Carey
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Investments Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> has made to boost its pickup truck and SUV production capacity should help it narrow the gap with the U.S. auto industry average for bigger vehicles increasingly popular with American consumers, a top company executive said on Thursday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Chicago Auto Show, Bill Fay, head of the U.S. Toyota brand, told Reuters that increased production of its Tacoma pickup trucks, RAV4 and Highlander SUVs and its new C-HR crossover vehicle should help bring Toyota to a "60 percent light truck sales mix this year, from about 52 percent this past year."
He noted that in recent months the industry average for light trucks and SUVs has been around 64 percent of U.S. industry sales - which have shifted substantially away from cars thanks to low gas prices and improved gas mileage for heavier vehicles. Fay said sales of those vehicles as a share of the U.S. total should continue to rise.
"We'll have a leveling out at some point, but we think it has a ways to go," Fay said.
He said Toyota is not forecasting when it could expect to catch up with the U.S. industry average for SUV and truck sales, adding "but we may not need to catch up to it" because of the popularity of its Camry and Corolla sedans.
"We may always be a brand that's always a little less light truck and a little higher passenger car because of the strength we have in our passenger vehicles," he said. "And that might be OK.”
(Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by David Gregorio)