He put Camry on track

As chief engineer for the Toyota Camry for the past 10 years, Kosaku Yamada has shepherded two generations of the best-selling car from drawing board to market. He oversaw the devolution of the previous generation into the decontented current generation as the program fell victim to a strong yen.

But with the currency situation back in his favor, Yamada says his latest Camry more adequately represents what the car should be. Yamada, who also heads Toyota's mid-sized platform program, spoke with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin at the vehicle press introduction in Ojai, Calif.

You talk about this platform as being all-new. Please explain some of the major changes.

We changed the structure of the front-side member to improve crashworthiness. We adopted a new four-cylinder engine and transmission. We also created a lighter platform. The turning circle radius has been shortened.

Three years ago, when development started, I felt cabin roominess was the priority, more so than the engine bay or the trunk. I also am the chief engineer for the mid-sized platform, so other vehicle line chief engineers were coming to me with ideas for their vehicles, such as allowing more weight or bigger tires. This platform will be used with the Camry, Avalon, Sienna, Highlander and Lexus RX 300. Actually, the Highlander is on the new Camry platform and the Lexus RX 300 is still on the old platform. If we could eliminate that overlap, we could save a lot of money.

Speaking of saving money, what sort of percentage reduction was there in the development cost of the Camry?

It cost 30 percent less to develop this Camry than the old one. But you know that means development cost, not what it costs to build on the assembly line. When the current Camry came out, it was criticized for not having enough content. This time, we're going the other way, but it doesn't cost us any more to build.

Was there concern about the Camry's horsepower, given that the 2002 Nissan Altima is the segment benchmark?

There was discussion to make the Camry more powerful, but we chose this setup. The current performance is enough for the Camry customer. If we were to adopt a bigger engine, that would mean a price increase, which is an important consideration. There also are tradeoffs in noise, vibration and harshness when you create more horsepower.

You developed a new four-cylinder engine. Why not do it for the V-6?

Toyota is doing many vehicles at the same time. We have 10 new models coming globally within one year. Doing that affects the development of a new engine family. The current performance of the V-6 was good enough. However, the inline-four was not good enough, so we changed that. But on the V-6, we made some slight changes to the gear ratios because the transaxle is new.

Why didn't you give the Camry a five-speed automatic transmission?

Within Toyota, we have big plans for giving all future V-6 vehicles five-speed automatics. It might be possible to adopt that in the middle of the Camry model cycle, but I am not sure right now. But we will not do that for the four-cylinder car. The four-cylinder customer is more based on economics, and adding a five-speed would be too expensive.

Toyota cars typically are not referred to as emotional vehicles. And yet you state that the new Camry is emotional. Is it merely the emotion of technology, or is there emotion in its dynamics?

The exterior and interior styling - especially the interior - evoke quite a bit of emotion. But I think the driving performance is a mixture of many items. When you grip the steering wheel the car responds in a very linear fashion. It is most important that the car evokes a fun-to-drive feeling.

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