Toyota plays it safe with 2012 Camry styling
New hybrid powertrain, refined interior highlight changes
Photo credit: TOYOTA
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- CHART: Camry's U.S. sales history
- COMPARISON CHART: The Camry's fight to stay No. 1
- TIMELINE: The Toyota Camry in the United States
- BLOG: Prediction: Camry will keep sales title
- SPECS: How the new Camry, Hyundai Sonata compare
- NEWSCAST: All about Camry; Rechtin test drive
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the spelling on Yukihiro Okane's name.
Toyota Motor Corp. -- battling the effects of recession, a recall crisis, an earthquake and an unfavorable currency exchange rate -- has played it safe in redesigning its top-selling model, the Camry.
The 2012 Toyota Camry doesn't vary a whisker in any dimension, with mostly carryover powertrains and only mild sheet-metal changes.
But Toyota is counting on improved fuel economy with a new hybrid powertrain, a more elegant interior and streamlined manufacturing to continue the Camry's dominance of the mid-sized segment. The automaker formally unveiled the new Camry today.
While sales of the current Camry have dropped 8 percent this year to 174,485 units, it remains the top-selling car in the U.S. market with a broad and loyal following.
"One thing won't change about Camry. It will remain the number one smart, safe, and worry-free choice of American consumers," said Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager. "Competing in the industry's most competitive segment, we expect Camry to continue as America's best-selling car."
The redesigned 2012 model will square off in a market segment undergoing enormous change and poised to become as competitive as ever.
Hyundai and Kia are gaining ground with radically styled models. Volkswagen is reloading with a less expensive Passat this fall, and Chevrolet will introduce a redesigned Malibu early next year. Later next year, an all-new Honda Accord and Nissan Altima will hit showrooms.
But Toyota is banking on its expertise in gasoline-electric hybrid powertrains and other changes to enhance the Camry's appeal with more consumers.
"We're going to maintain the market by taking the core Camry and expanding in two different directions," Carter said. "With [the standard] Camry, you have a true midsize package at 35 miles per gallon, and the Hybrid is 43 mpg. It used to be that you couldn't dream of a car in this class getting 43 mpg."
Pricing starts at $22,715
The new Camry goes on sale Oct. 3, with a major marketing campaign scheduled to launch Oct. 17. The Camry Hybrid reaches showrooms in December.
Toyota said prices on popular trim lines will decrease or remain flat. All Camry models come standard with 10 airbags, vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
Pricing on the base Camry L model will start at $22,715, including freight charges, up $710 from the 2011 model. It includes Bluetooth hands-free capability, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, cruise control, dual color-keyed power outside mirrors, projector beam headlamps, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, tire pressure monitor system, 16-inch wheels and four-wheel disc brakes, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with an auxiliary audio jack and USB with iPod connectivity.
The Camry LE with a four-cylinder engine is expected to account for 40 percent of all model sales and will be priced at $23,260, including destination, down $200.
The biggest price decrease comes on the Camry XLE model with a four-cylinder engine. It will be priced at $25,485, down $2,000 from 2011.
Pricing on the hybrid will start at $26,660, a drop of $1,150 compared to the 2011 model.
Hybrid sales to rise
Toyota expects to sell about 360,000 total units in the United States next year, including about 50,000 Camry Hybrids. Last year, Toyota sold 14,587 Camry Hybrids in the United States, according to the Automotive News Data Center. When the market fully recovers, Camry sales should exceed 400,000 units easily, Carter says.
U.S. sales of the Camry peaked at 473,108 units in 2007, and during the downturn, Toyota still managed to sell more than 325,000 units a year.
Perhaps the biggest change for the 2012 model year is making the Camry simpler to manufacture. Without counting interior and exterior color combinations, the outgoing Camry could be built 1,246 different ways. The new Camry has just 36 build combinations, and should result in higher quality and lower manufacturing costs.
The four- and six-cylinder engines will be carried over, although the four-cylinder was redesigned in 2009, and the V-6 was revolutionary when it came out with the last Camry redesign.
Toyota has eliminated the old base model's 169 hp four-cylinder engine, but the remaining four-cylinder still comes up 20 hp short against the base Hyundai Sonata, with only a slight fuel economy advantage. There is no manual transmission offering.
The six-speed automatic's gearing is the same, except for a taller final drive ratio.
But the hybrid-gasoline engine is new, using Atkinson-cycle combustion, as is much of the hybrid powertrain. The Atkinson cycle closes the intake valves later than normal to improve fuel economy and emissions in hybrid powertrains. That results in much quicker acceleration from its 200 total system horsepower -- with a 7.6 second zero-to-60 time -- as well as 43 city/41 highway mpg fuel economy. The hybrid also can go 1.5 miles in EV mode up to 45 mph, if the driver has a very light foot.
The MacPherson strut front and dual-link rear suspension design is carryover, although there are some changes to geometry and damping settings, as well as a thicker front stabilizer bar.
Perhaps the most notable design change is that the interior styling is more elegant, and less pedestrian.
Weight reduction was crucial to improving fuel economy on the new Camry. About 150 pounds were shaved off the LE model, and 220 pounds from the hybrid, said Yukihiro Okane, the Camry platform's chief engineer.
Engineers redesigned the rear floorpan and side member, used a higher ratio of high-strength steel for the main structure and reduced the fuel tank capacity by one gallon.
While the idea of using lightweight aluminum was tempting, the tough economy and steep exchange rate nixed the idea of using the expensive metal.
Despite the sheet metal liposuction, noise countermeasures were increased in the pillars, floors and doors to help with cabin quietness, especially for intrusive sounds in the sonic realm of conversational tones.
Details and equipment
Standard features on all models include 16-inch wheels, intermittent wipers, air conditioning, cruise control, electric power steering, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, power door locks, mirrors and windows, and AM/FM/CD player with six speakers and iPod connectivity.
Standard safety features include 10 airbags, traction control, stability control, antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and four-wheel disc brakes that are larger than those on the outgoing model.
The SE edition is more than just an aero kit. The suspension has been substantially stiffened compared with the standard Camry; it also boasts larger wheels and has added paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
The JBL stereo is more efficient, higher voltage, has more speakers and still weighs less than the old model. Toyota's Entune telematics system is optional, but Toyota expects a high take rate.
Over the next 12 months, with a new Accord, Altima, Malibu and Passat on the horizon, Toyota may have its hands full if the competition comes out with bolder designs and new technologies that eclipse those of Camry. Trading on quality will take Toyota only so far.
Still, Toyota executives are quick to defend the new Camry's evolutionary design compared with some rivals.
Said Carter: "Styling like the Sonata's is not a quick way to get to 400,000 sales."
You can reach Mark Rechtin at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Mark on