NEW YORK – Bill Fay would love to see the new ’14 Toyota Highlander midsize cross/utility vehicle beat sales segment leader Ford Explorer.

“But that is not our goal,” the general manager of Toyota’s U.S. unit says on the sidelines at the unveiling of the third-generation Highlander at the New York International Auto Show.

Instead, Fay hopes the new vehicle does two main things. One is to satisfy CUV customers looking for sleeker styling, higher comfort levels and a smoother ride.

The second goal is to “maximize utilization” at the Princeton, IN, plant where the Highlander is built, along with the Toyota Sienna. The factory is busy, but not running at full capacity.

“If we surpass the Explorer in sales after those two things, great, but most of all we are bringing a great vehicle to market,” Fay says.

WardsAuto data shows Highlander sales at 121,055 units last year compared with 164,207 for the No.1-selling 3-row Explorer.

Surveyed Highlander owners say they like the vehicle, but it could use extra interior room. So the new model will offer that, without bloating the exterior, which takes on a sleeker appearance than its predecessor, Fay says.

The Japanese auto maker lengthened third-row seating by 4.5 ins. (11.4 cm). A new double-wishbone rear suspension makes that possible.

Easy-to-use technology is another expressed customer concern, Fay says. “Owners told us they want user-friendly technologies. Designers also paid meticulous attention to using soft-touch materials throughout the interior.”

Highlander production starts in December. The vehicle goes on sale early next year.

“We’re still working on production schedules and sales projections,” Bob Carter, Toyota U.S.A.’s senior vice president-automotive operations, tells. WardsAuto.

Although the Highlander isn’t the nation’s best-selling midsize CUV, the Toyota Camry ranks as the No.1 midsize sedan, and Carter aims to keep it that way. 

Camry sales were down last month as competitors such as the Honda Accord and Ford Fusion came on strong with marketing campaigns.

“They are ramping up the incentives to get more people to consider their vehicles,” Carter says. “We’ve always had below-industry average incentives, but we offer specials and we’re offering 0% financing on the remaining ’12 Camry models.”

Expect appealing financing deals and lease programs for the Camry, he says. “We’ll be competitive. It is a great time to be a consumer.”

But he isn’t anticipating an incentive slugfest in the keenly competitive midsize sedan segment. “The industry is smarter than that.” Four or five years ago, as vehicle sales went into a freefall, “incentives got irrational,” he says. “I don’t think you will see that again.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com