Toyota chases youth with its oldest car

2003 Corolla
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches

Length: 178.3 inches

Width: 66.9 inches

Height: 57.4 inches

Engine: 1.8-liter twin-cam 4-cylinder

Horsepower: 130 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 125 lbs.-ft. @ 4,200 rpm

Curb weight: 2,490 lbs. (5-speed manual); 2,560 lbs. (4-speed automatic)

KOHALA COAST, Hawaii — Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. hopes its oldest car, the Corolla, can help alleviate its biggest problem: the need to attract younger buyers.

The company chose the winding, hilly roads of Hawaii’s Big Island to introduce the ninth-generation Corolla to journalists. The new subcompact is longer, taller and wider than its predecessor — and, Toyota hopes, more appealing to 20- and 30- somethings than to 40-somethings.

“For 2003, Corolla will add style, performance and unique packaging to a formula that will, once again, have broad appeal among younger buyers,” said Takeshi Yoshida, Toyota’s chief engineer.

To win buyers younger than 44, the current average age of Corolla buyers, the new car comes with sleeker, rounded styling and a peppier, new-technology four-cylinder engine. To keep loyal Corolla buyers, the subcompact will offer more interior space and more options.

The 2003 Corolla will reach dealerships in February. Toyota has not announced the price.

‘Big, open office’

After eight generations of Corollas, Toyota didn’t just feel like redesigning the car. It also felt the need to redesign the redesigning process, Yoshida said.

To do this, it implemented a practice called oobeya, or “big, open office,” in which all those involved a vehicle’s development are involved from the beginning. They included designers, engineers and marketers.

“It is a process similar in concept to simultaneous engineering,” said Yoshida. “But it’s more involved.”

The new process reduced the number of prototypes made before production was approved. It also eliminated the need to make changes after the final blueprints were drawn.

Corolla’s silhouette has changed. The windshield and rear-window were extended about nine inches along the car’s belt line, which Toyota said cuts wind resistance. The body styling features more pronounced edges around the grille and headlamps, making it look more performance-oriented than the old Corolla.

The passenger compartment still contains the simple styling of the past generation, but with radio buttons and air conditioning knobs that are more refined. Interior space also is larger. Passenger volume of 90.3 cubic feet exceeds the previous generation’s volume by 2.3 cubic feet.

All seats come with nearly 2 inches of more hip room than those of the previous generation. The redesign does, however, sacrifice more than an inch of legroom.

New engine

The four-cylinder VVT-I engine, made specifically for the North American market, generates 5 more horsepower than the current Corolla, even though the new vehicles are 80 to 110 pounds heavier, depending on the trim level. Its fuel economy is roughly the same as the last generation’s: 32 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg in highway driving.

The engine also meets federal ultra low emissions vehicle standards.

The transmission is either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic, with gear ratios identical to those of the current Corolla.

The Corolla will be offered in three trim levels: CE, LE and S.

All models come standard with power mirrors, a tilt steering wheel, a CD player, an outside temperature gauge, daytime running lights and remote trunk, hood and fuel door releases.

The S-trim Corolla will be marketed to buyers 25 to 35 years old, aimed at the buyer base of the segment-leading Honda Civic. The S features a sportier look than the CE and LE, with a rear spoiler, front underbody spoiler, side rocker panels, smoked headlamps and fog lights. The inside will have a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever and sportier looking speedometer and tachometer.

Toyota plans to sell about 220,000 Corollas annually. Of those, 20 percent are expected to be S-trim models.

The Corolla will be built at Toyota’s Cambridge, Ontario, assembly plant and New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. in Fremont, Calif. Production is scheduled to start Wednesday, Jan. 2.

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