LOS ANGELES — President Akio Toyoda's urgent call for Toyota Motor Corp. to adapt quickly to unprecedented industry change was on display last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show — not in the form of self-driving electric urban pods, but in vehicles that the company needs now to fund new mobility ventures for an uncertain future.
Lexus finally launched a three-row version of the RX midsize crossover after years of pleas by dealers who said they were leaving money on the table as luxury buyers went elsewhere for family-friendly haulers.
Toyota unwrapped a small crossover concept, the FT-AC, that looks ready to slot between the compact RAV4 and large Highlander.
Both brands' U.S. executives promised that the L.A. offerings were just the start of an onslaught of new ideas and products as the execs take up Toyoda's call for more get-up-and-go across the company.
"His sense of urgency is saying we have to be able to respond to global markets faster, better, with more innovation," Jack Hollis, Toyota Division general manager, told Automotive News. "He's setting the organization up to do that. We in North America are a big player."
Hollis pointed to the U.S.-based Toyota Research Institute, which is leading the company's push into self-driving technology.
Toyoda named Gill Pratt, the robotics expert leading the institute, to the newly created position of fellow at the parent company last week as part of a management shuffle to prepare the automaker for the future.
One immediate concern for Hollis: Satisfying surging demand for crossovers/SUVs.
"How do we react to customers' demands for SUVs? You continue to find new spaces in your SUV lineup for new entries," said Hollis. The FT-AC, he said, is the most "doable" of the three small crossover concepts Toyota has shown globally this year.
At Lexus, the three-row RX L is expected to generate about 30,000 sales in 2018, said Jeff Bracken, Lexus general manager, split between conquests and RX customers deciding against the two-row.
Lexus also rolled out a two-row version of its LX large SUV that offers more cargo space to buyers who don't want the extra seats. It's a small tweak, but foreshadows bigger moves for Lexus as it seeks to spur more volume.
"In 2018, we'll have 14 new products to talk about," Bracken said. "Whether it's a concept or a next-generation [model] or a vehicle that we've never revealed before, special editions, anniversary editions. There will be 14 vehicles that we have never spoken about or are hitting the market."
Bracken held back on whether one of them would be a production version of the UX crossover concept.
"We're getting good feedback from the public, from our dealers, from our own internal sources," he said. "As quickly as we can try and bring a vehicle like the UX to market, that would be our desire."