Compact SUV sales on the rise in the U.S., Toyota wants its share of the cake image

Toyota Motor Corp.’s senior vice president of U.S. automotive operations is looking at a production boost for the carmaker’s popular RAV-4 compact SUV – in time to profit from the rising sales in the segment.

Bob Carter said in an interview that Toyota would like to produce an additional 50,000 RAV-4s annually. The compact SUV and crossover segment has grown by more than 21 percent so far this year, according to data compiled by Kelley Blue Book.

“Our goal is to exceed 200,000 and we have the production to support that,” Carter said. “My aspiration is to get to 250,000, where the market is.”

The top four players in the segment — Honda CR-V; Ford Escape; Chevrolet Equinox; and Toyota with its RAV-4 — have experienced sales increases through August of at least 8.6%.

“Even if the market doesn’t grow, I’ll tell you — I’ll bet everybody dinner — what will grow is compact SUVs,” Carter said. “Nobody’s got enough compact SUVs. We don’t have enough RAVs. Ford’s tight on Escapes. Honda says they could use some more CR-Vs. So, to meet the consumer demand, there’s going to have to be more compact SUVs just to meet the demands of a steady market.”

Toyota is more able to change its manufacturing mix than some of its competitors, because its factories are more flexible and capable of producing more different types of vehicles. Toyota builds RAV-4s at its assembly plant in Woodstock, Ontario.