The Toyota Motor Company will sell more imported vehicles in the United States this year, Toyota officials acknowledged Friday, even though the company has begun building Camry sedans at a Subaru plant here to replace those built in Japan.
Toyota’s imports will rise because it expects a significant increase in sales for the hybrid-electric Prius, which it builds only in Japan, said James Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
He estimated that Toyota’s total imports would probably rise by about 25,000 this year, if Toyota meets its sales targets for the Prius.
To be sure, Toyota’s production in North America is also rising as it opens new factories of its own and adds production at the Subaru plant here, where it expects to build 100,000 Camrys a year.
This week, it broke ground for a plant in Mississippi, its eighth assembly plant in North America. It is building a new factory in Canada and opened a plant in Texas last fall.
Even so, Toyota’s imports as a percentage of its American sales have risen in the last three years, figures criticized by some supporters of Detroit’s carmakers.
In 2006, 46 percent of Toyota’s vehicles were imported from Japan compared with 38.4 percent in 2005 and 37 percent in 2004.
Toyota sold 2.54 million vehicles in the United States last year, a record for the automaker, which passed DaimlerChrysler to rank third behind General Motors and the Ford Motor Company. It has forecast that its American sales will rise to 2.68 million this year.
About 40,000 of those vehicles will be Camrys built at the Subaru plant, owned by Fuji Heavy Industries. Toyota bought a stake in Fuji in 2005 from General Motors and immediately began looking for arrangements involving Fuji plants and the company’s engineers.
It announced the deal to build Camrys here just over a year ago, investing $230 million in the project, which will add 1,000 jobs at the plant. Fuji opened the factory in 1988 to build Subaru and Isuzu vehicles.
James Doyle, president of the Level Field Institute, an organization founded by retirees of the Detroit automakers, said that he was pleased to see Toyota’s investment but that it did not compare with those by Detroit companies.
Toyota accounts for 9 percent of automotive manufacturing jobs in the United States and roughly 16 percent of the vehicle market, while G.M. accounts for 29 percent of the jobs and about 24 percent of the market, Mr. Doyle said.
“We lose 10 for every one job that they bring,” Mr. Doyle said.
And despite the start of Camry production here, Toyota will still import 60,000 Camrys from Japan this year, Mr. Lentz said. Along with that, Toyota also expects to import about 70,000 more Priuses than in 2006, when it sold just under 107,000 in the United States.
But the Prius is finding lots of company on the freighters from Japan. This year, Toyota has achieved double-digit and in some cases triple-digit sales increases for Japanese-made models like the Yaris, a subcompact car; the FJ Cruiser, an eye-catching sport utility vehicle; and the RAV-4, a small S.U.V.
Sales are also climbing for two Japanese-made Lexus cars, the ES 350, considered the entry-level Lexus, and the flagship LS 460 sedan.
Prius sales slumped in the final months of 2006 when some tax credits on the car were discontinued and gas prices fell. In January, Toyota placed its first incentives ever on the small hybrid-electric vehicle and started a national advertising campaign. Prius sales have set records since then, and Toyota is on track to meet its sales target.
The automaker actually has more Priuses to sell because it has cut back on Camry production in Japan, Mr. Lentz said.
Still, the chance to build the Camry here was a godsend for Fuji, whose production in Lafayette had dropped, said Ikuo Mori, the chief executive. “We are not so big of a company. We need a partner, and the partner used to be G.M.,” Mr. Mori said.
Toyota’s investment has given Subaru workers the opportunity to learn Toyota’s production methods and to train on the state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment the company has installed here, he said.
Toyota, which sent manufacturing experts from Japan and the United States to help with the start of production here, is already discovering improvements it can make in its own processes by drawing on the way Subaru builds cars.
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