Ford executive predicts U.S. SUV boom will continue

Guests are served coffee while riding in a 2017 Ford Escape SUV during Ford's "Escape the Room" drive experience in New York City, U.S., June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid - RTX2HUZR

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A top Ford Motor Co F.N executive said on Monday industry-wide sales of sport utility vehicles will continue to rise in the United States as the country's second-largest U.S. automaker gets ready to unveil a refreshed 2018 Ford Explorer SUV.

The market share of SUVs has increased to nearly 40 percent from 32.6 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales in 2016.

Mark LaNeve, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service told reporters at an event on Monday ahead of this week’s New York International Auto Show that the company expects that figure to rise to 45 percent of industry sales within five to seven years.

Automakers are “responding to consumer demand,” LaNeve said, citing the growing number of SUVs automakers are introducing. Ford last refreshed the Explorer in 2015.

Low fuel prices and improving fuel efficiency among SUVs have helped prod more Americans into buying SUVs and pickup trucks in recent years and put pressure on car sales. Many automakers like Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE are shifting focus in the United States from cars to SUVs.

Ford has said it plans to unveil five new SUVs in the United States by 2020. Reuters reported in February that a sixth new model would carry the Lincoln badge.

The company is also launching a redesigned 2018 model year version of its larger Expedition SUV. Both the new Expedition and Explorer will go on sale this fall.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sandra Maler and Bill Rigby