DETROIT – Toyota says it expects to sell 30,000 units of its new C-HR small CUV this year, and 60,000 in a full year, but a top executive believes it may have more potential than that.

“We’re very bullish on where that’s going,” Bob Carter, senior vice president-automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. tells WardsAuto in an interview here at the 2017 North American International Auto Show.

He says production is dictating the new CUV’s projected sales volumes, but hints Toyota may be able to get more units.

The C-HR is being assembled for the U.S. at Toyota’s Sakarya, Turkey, plant, which is supplying other markets such as Europe.

WardsAuto’s Small CUV segment was one of the industry’s fastest-growing in 2016, up 26.0% last year from 2015, to 968,013. A slew of models tallied north of 75,000 units, including those from automakers with lower volume than Toyota. The Chevy Trax, Buick Encore, Honda HR-V, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage booked between 78,000 and 95,000 deliveries. The Jeep Patriot led the group with 121,926 sales. Jeep’s Compass and Renegade also racked up more than 90,000 sales last year.

As for Toyota, Carter says the automaker’s 2.0% sales drop in the U.S. in 2016 was due to “where the market went,” referring to the shift from cars to light trucks. He also blames the shift for Toyota’s market share loss, from 14.4% in 2015 to 14.0% last year.

“The share loss was mathematics,” he says. “We actually drove our car share up. We as a company get about 16%-16.5% of car share in the U.S. Truck share – we were having trouble keeping up with it. Truck share was about flat. We do about 12.2%, 12.4% (share) of (U.S.) trucks. So when the market skews just the math pulls the share down.”

Toyota is working to remedy the situation by increasing production of in-demand light-truck models, such as the Highlander and RAV4 CUVs, while scaling back car builds to reduce inventories of the vehicle type on U.S. dealer lots.

WardsAuto production data shows Toyota is set to build 0.2% fewer units in North America in the first quarter than year-ago, with car output being cut 2.2% and light-truck builds scheduled to rise 1.3% from Q1 2016.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com