In about two weeks, Toyota will describe plans to update America's top-selling car, the Camry midsize sedan.
The company will make the car's front-end more crash resistant so it can pass a new test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Bill Fay, head of the Toyota division in the U.S., said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.
But it was unclear if Toyota would alter the Camry's styling, which critics have said looks bland compared to the competition. Fay hinted that any style changes would be minimal.
"The car has done really very well since we launched it" three years ago, Fay said. "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder." He wouldn't say when the revamped Camry will go on sale.
Through November, Camry sales grew only 1.3 percent to nearly 379,000. Sales of its main rival, the Honda Accord, have risen 11 percent to over 324,000. Overall, the midsize car segment, with about 3 million in sales, has grown only 3 percent this year, trailing the overall market's 8 percent growth.
Industry analysts say slower growth and rising inventories are pressuring automakers to increase discounts. Fay said he hopes a price war doesn't break out in the biggest part of the U.S. market.
Fay joined other Toyota executives Thursday for a half-hour interview in Detroit. Among the other topics covered:
LEXUS WON'T GO CHEAP
Toyota's Lexus luxury brand won't follow Mercedes-Benz in offering luxury cars priced below $30,000, the top Lexus executive says.
"For us at Lexus, we're simply not going to do that," said Jeff Bracken, Lexus general manager, acknowledging that the resistance will make it difficult for Lexus to once again become the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S.
Mercedes is offering its CLA class sedan for under $30,000, and BMW has some models close to that price. Currently the cheapest Lexus is the CT Hybrid at $32,050. The lowest-priced gasoline engine Lexus is the IS at $35,950.
Through November, Mercedes leads the luxury vehicle race in the U.S. with almost 299,000 sales, according to Autodata Corp. BMW is next with 272,000, followed by Lexus at just over 239,000.
Bracken says Toyota will sell over 270,000 Lexuses this year and is targeting 300,000 in future years.
CHALLENGES NEXT YEAR
Interest rates and consumer confidence are the auto industry's biggest challenges next year, according to Fay.
Like others, Toyota is watching to see if the Federal Reserve will ease its bond-buying program that has kept rates down.
"Everybody seems to be timing when the Fed is going to change their policies," he said. "It could have some impact on the way everybody approaches the market."
Confident consumers and positive economic growth are essential to keeping the auto industry going, Fay said. "If consumer confidence is good, it covers up a lot of other things that happen in the news and in the economy," he said.
SMALLER CROSSOVER SUV
Toyota is looking at building a smaller crossover SUV as other automakers enter the market. Compact crossovers are among the hottest-selling vehicles in the country. General Motors and Nissan have introduced models based on subcompact cars, and Honda is planning one but nothing is being designed yet, Fay said.