Toyota is to lift the wraps on Tuesday on the latest version of its Camry mid-sized saloon, a vehicle critical to the Japanese carmaker’s drive to recover from two years of setbacks.
The Camry has been the US’s top-selling saloon car for 13 of the past 14 years, with only Honda’s Accord coming close. The smaller Corolla is Toyota’s global bestseller.
The US is the Camry’s biggest market, accounting for more than half the 15m sold since the marque was launched in 1983. The main ceremony for the unveiling will take place at the US Automotive Hall of Fame in Detroit. “This car could not be more important to Toyota,” said Ed Kim, analyst at AutoPacific, a California-based consultancy.
But the Camry’s crown shows signs of slipping. It now faces a much tougher stable of rivals, led by Hyundai’s widely acclaimed Sonata but also including the Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu and Buick Regal.
The Camry has taken a knock from last year’s mass recalls of Toyota models and, more recently, from supply shortages caused by the Japanese earthquake.
Sales were 8 per cent lower in the first seven months of this year than January-July 2010, compared with a 6 per cent expansion of the overall US light vehicle market. The Camry fell behind the Malibu, as well as the smaller Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, in June.
Despite the setbacks, Toyota remains a force to be reckoned with. It was the only non-luxury brand among the top five in the latest annual survey by Michigan-based American Customer Satisfaction Index, a market research company. Toyota, its upscale Lexus brand and General Motors’ Cadillac tied for first place. The Camry regained the top saloon sales spot in July.
Toyota declined to comment on the new model ahead of Tuesday’s launch. But according to some who have seen it, the latest Camry follows the carmaker’s track record on other models, offering evolution rather than revolution to attract mainstream car buyers. One described the styling as “inoffensive”.
Two people who attended an embargoed test drive event in Michigan last month singled out a feature-rich but easy-to-use incar information and entertainment system as the main draw. Interior fittings are also significantly improved, they said.
“People should expect no huge surprises,” one added. “It looks like they’re trying to do something interesting, but it kind of falls flat. They say they want to appeal more emotionally with this car, but I’m not sure they will.”
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