TOKYO -- Stung by lower profits and softening sales, Japan's automakers are scrambling to produce more of the only vehicles that seem to sell these days: crossovers, pickups and SUVs.
Virtually every company -- from Japanese juggernaut Toyota to Mazda and Mitsubishi -- amplified plans to tilt lineups more toward light trucks and, in some cases, even introduce new nameplates in the segment.
"We have been increasing capacity for SUVs and pickups, and we will make full use of that to increase supply of light trucks," Toyota Executive Vice President Osamu Nagata pledged last week while announcing a 30 percent slide in operating profit in the fiscal year ended March 31.
Toyota and its Japanese rivals need to do so, and fast.
Japanese brands long have banked on their fuel-efficient small cars and family sedans to drive profits. But U.S. car sales tumbled 12 percent in the first four months of the year while light-truck sales climbed 4.4 percent.
Not having a bigger piece of the light-truck market was one reason every major Japanese automaker except Honda reported collapsing operating profit in the fiscal year ended March 31.
And Honda's profits increased only in comparison to miserable earnings the prior year when results were hammered by mammoth costs to cover recalls of faulty Takata airbag inflators.