May 17, 2021

New Camry, Spruced Up but Still Free of Flash

DEARBORN, Mich. — Toyota unveiled a revamped, lower-priced Camry on Tuesday that it hopes will retain its nearly decade-long dominance as the best-selling car in the United States and help the company regain some of the respect and momentum that has evaporated in recent years.

So important is the new Camry to Toyota’s recovery that the company’s president, Akio Toyoda, traveled to Kentucky so he could drive the first completed car off the assembly line and proclaim “100 percent confidence” in the work of his designers and engineers.

“You might say that this is an opportunity to show the world again what Toyota is all about,” Mr. Toyoda said. He called the Camry, which accounted for 22 percent of Toyota’s sales in the United States last year, “a symbol of Toyota’s success.” It has been the best-selling car in the United States for nine consecutive years.

The 2012 Camry, scheduled to reach dealerships in early October, cannot arrive soon enough for Toyota, which was the world’s largest automaker from 2008 through 2010 but is on pace to rank third this year, behind General Motors and Volkswagen. The company suffered serious damage to a once-impermeable reputation after recalling millions of vehicles to address concerns that some were accelerating out of control. More recently, it has struggled to overcome production disruptions caused by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.

In addition, rivals in Detroit and elsewhere have begun building considerably more excitement around their vehicles than Toyota, whose lineup has generally been composed of bland but worry-free models. The new Camry, likewise, is not flashy or groundbreaking but designed to rekindle sentiments among shoppers that Toyota is a dependable choice, analysts said. Camry sales are down 8 percent this year in the United States, and Toyota’s sales over all are down 7 percent.

Toyota is planning the Camry’s largest-ever marketing campaign starting Oct. 17, a months-long blitz that includes having the car featured prominently during the Super Bowl in February, according to Robert S. Carter, a Toyota group vice president. The company introduced the new model on Tuesday on a Hollywood backlot filled with hundreds of performers, broadcasting the ceremony to gatherings in New York, Michigan and the Georgetown, Ky., plant where Mr. Toyoda appeared.

Toyota is seeking to regain some of its lost market share by increasing the car’s fuel economy and dropping the price of some Camry trim levels by as much as $2,000 below the current versions. In the past, Toyota could command higher prices than most competitors because customers were willing to pay more for the quality and reliability its name represented.

But the Camry is up against much stiffer competition than when it first arrived 28 years ago, and even compared with just five years ago when the current generation was introduced. G.M. and the Ford Motor Company, formerly also-rans in the midsize car segment, now sell much more formidable models in the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion. Sedans from Hyundai and Nissan also have been poaching customers from Toyota.

The new Camry will be the first model to offer Toyota’s new information and entertainment system, called Entune — the type of feature that has helped Ford and others attract new customers.

Toyota said it re-engineered 90 percent of the Camry’s components and that the outside is entirely new, but the car looks similar to its predecessor and remains essentially the same size, albeit with a roomier interior.

“None of the vehicle’s improvements will stop certain enthusiasts from scoffing at the 2012 Toyota Camry and its less-than-revolutionary suit of new clothes, but enthusiasts never sat square in Toyota’s cross hairs to begin with,” said Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at the automotive research Web site “As ever, the Camry is aimed at the heart of the market where value, fuel economy, safety, quality and comfort reign supreme.”

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