TOKYO -- Japan's auto industry is shifting its U.S. export focus to large vehicles to better reflect today's market preferences.
Toyota Motor will freeze its plan to make more Prius hybrids in Japan and ramp up exports of less fuel-efficient but popular SUVs. Likewise, Honda Motor and Nissan Motor will refocus on SUV and pickup truck production.
The shift to the so-called "light truck" segment will have the automakers overhauling their systems, from manufacturing to sales. They can blame gas prices, which are so low Americans are buying more SUVs and pickups.
These light trucks now account for 60% of the U.S. market, up from 50%.
The Prius, which was fully remodeled in December, will continue to be made at the Tsutsumi Plant in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture. Prius production at the Takaoka Plant, in the same area, however, will be suspended this month so the factory can be refitted to make RAV4 SUVs.
Toyota initially expected to sell 140,000 new Priuses in the U.S. this year, up more than 20%. But during the January to August period, sales actually dropped 10% year on year. Low gas prices apparently have some Americans thinking bigger when it comes to what they drive.
It seems the Prius' remarkable fuel efficiency just doesn't appeal to as many American drivers these days.
Honda, meanwhile, plans to invest 5 billion yen to 6 billion yen ($49.4 million to $59.3 million) to renovate a plant in the U.S. state of Indiana that will churn out CR-V SUVs in addition to Civic passenger cars. A plant in Mexico that assembles CR-V parts will start making another SUV, the HR-V.
Fuji Heavy Industries, the maker of Subaru vehicles, in July activated new production lines at a plant in the state of Indiana -- six months ahead of schedule. The factory will raise the production of Subaru's flagship Outback SUV.