Toyota is hoping the third time is the charm for its Venza cross/utility vehicle, which is set for another U.S. marketing push.

First launched in late 2008 during the height of the economic downturn, the Georgetown, KY-built, Camry-based midsize CUV failed to gain traction with purse-pinching consumers.

After the furor from Toyota’s 2010 unintended-acceleration scandal died down, the Japanese auto maker re-launched the midsize CUV last year with a dedicated advertising campaign. Sales improved, but then came Japan’s earthquake and tsunami that caused parts shortages in the U.S., where the Venza is built.

“What you saw us do last summer was come out (with) an aggressive (Venza) sustainment campaign,” Bob Carter, Toyota Div. group vice president and general manager, tells WardsAuto during an interview.

“(We) had a huge spike in volume, (but) unfortunately it didn’t sustain us because we ran into production difficulties,” he says. “So you will see us go back and do part two of that sustainment strategy later this spring.”

Carter told WardsAuto prior to last year’s Venza campaign that only 20% of consumers were aware of the CUV compared with the 90% who were familiar with the Camry midsize sedan and Prius hybrid.

Venza sales hit their record high of 54,410 units in 2009, WardsAuto data shows, just shy of the 60,000 targeted by Toyota when the vehicle launched in late 2008. Deliveries of the CUV fell to 47,321 in 2010 and 38,904 in 2011.

Carter says if the Venza is viewed as having only one competitor, Honda’s similar Crosstour, “We own the market.” Crosstour sales fell 37.7% last year, compared with 2010, to 17,974 units.

However, he acknowledges the Venza falls short when pitted against popular domestic brands such as Chevrolet’s Equinox, the best-selling middle-large CUV in the U.S. in 2011 with 193,274 units, or Ford’s Edge CUV with 121,702 deliveries, up 2.6% from prior-year.

Current-model Venza sales were up 3.9% in first-quarter 2012, WardsAuto data shows.

“We have a lot more opportunities” to gain sales considering the Edge’s volume, Carter says.

Toyota plans to debut a refreshed Venza at next month’s New York auto show. The CUV will sport an updated front fascia and rear taillights, three new exterior colors and a new 19-in. wheel design.

To simplify the ordering process, Toyota says many features will come standard on the ’13 Venza, including puddle lamps (LE grade); driver memory seat; and audio display with navigation and Toyota’s Entune infotainment system (XLE grade); plus a premium hard-drive-based navigation system with Entune and JBL audio system (Limited grade).

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com