TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp. has adopted an aggressive new-product plan that differentiates more between American and Japanese versions of the same car, thrusts the company into new market segments and keeps the four-year product cycle intact on most models.
According to an internal company summary of the plan obtained by Automotive News, Japan's No. 1 automaker will come to market with 31 new models between next week - when it launches the RAV 4 small sport-utility in Japan - and November 1997, when an all-new Camry-based minivan and a mysterious, new rear-drive sedan will debut.
In a clear indication of the company's hard-nosed competitiveness, even as Japanese carmakers are under increasing social pressure to become 'kinder and gentler,' nine of the 31 vehicles will be new additions to either the Lexus or Toyota lineup.
The remainder either will be full replacements for existing models or major upgrades - not facelifts.
Citing company policy, a Toyota spokesman in Tokyo said he could not discuss future products. But company and supplier sources confirmed the accuracy of the summary that was obtained by Automotive News, and said execution of the plan is underway.
Among the highlights:
A new large luxury coupe, planned for launch in late 1997, which could be sold in the United States as a Lexus.
Two new minivans, including a Camry-based Previa replacement that would be world-sourced from the Georgetown, Ky., assembly plant starting in November 1997.
A mysterious rear-drive sedan thought to be intended as a sporty image car.
A new, upscale front-drive compact based on the Camry.
A new compact pickup truck scheduled to go into production at NUMMI in Fremont, Calif., next January.
To pay for it all, Toyota will increase capital investment in the fiscal year beginning July 1 for the first time in four years. Capital outlays will increase to 250 billion yen, equivalent to about $2.42 billion at current exchange rates, from 240 billion yen.
At the same time, to hold capital spending increases to the bare minimum, Toyota is paring costs out of new products by commonizing parts and other measures. According to one Toyota executive, the Lexus LS400 successor that debuts this fall is more than 100,000 yen - about $970 -*less expensive to manufacture than the car it replaces.
Toyota also is shifting more development responsibility to the United States. The U.S. version of the next-generation Camry that goes into production in 1996 will be largely developed by Toyota engineers in America, as will the all-new minivan due in 1997.
But the company is not backing off on the throttle when it comes to its lightning-fast product cycles, even though Japan's carmakers have been talking for the past two years about extending the industry's vaunted four-year turnaround time on key models. Indeed, the lives of some niche models already have been extended.
The plan shows that Toyota will introduce its new Corolla next May in Japan, precisely four years after the current generation was launched. It will be introduced a year later in the United States.
The timetable for the Corolla -*Japan's best-selling car - gives other Japanese makers little leeway for extending the four-year cycle on their own bread-and-butter models, such as Honda's Civic or Nissan's Sunny/Sentra.
'We can't be later than our competitors without losing out,' said Honda Motor Co. Executive Vice President Yoshihide Munekuni last week. 'At least for our mainstream models like Civic and Accord, we think we will have to stick to the four-year model cycle for the time being.'
Most other Toyotas are being launched on schedule, the timetable shows. A new Tercel/Corsa will come out on its four-year cycle this August, and the Lexus LS400/Toyota Celsior will hold to the original five-year timetable when it goes on sale in October.
In addition, the next Corona, an important model in Europe and Japan, will be launched in February 1996, four years to the month after the current model bowed.
NEW CAMRY PLANNED
Meanwhile, Toyota's domestic Camry/Vista will be replaced late this summer on a four-year schedule, although the wide-bodied Camry/Scepter - the version sold in the United States - is not due to appear before 1996.
The replacement for the Japan-only Camry/Vista takes the long-serving mid-range sedan in a new direction. As the domestic twins are downsized, plans are laid for an even more differentiated Camry/Scepter for the United States market in two years.
All new Camry/Vista versions this summer will be narrower in an effort to conform more with Japanese tastes and push prices downward. The larger, V-6-powered Camry Prominent will be dropped from the domestic Camry/Vista lineup.
The export version of the Camry/Scepter gets minor tweaks both this year and next, then is replaced outright in June 1996. A version of the replacement car, developed by engineers in the United States, will go into production at Georgetown that year to replace the existing Camry.
In August 1996 a new Camry-based Lexus ES300, designated internally as 416T, will succeed the current Lexus that is sold in Japan as the Toyota Windom.
Also in the works from the 415T Camry platform is an all-new, European-flavored, front-wheel-drive upscale compact sedan dubbed 435T. Plans call for production of 60,000 units a year beginning in May 1997.
'That type of vehicle would make a lot of sense for them,' said analyst Peter Boardman of UBS Securities in Tokyo. 'They have nothing to compete with the Nissan Primera (Infiniti G20).'
The U.S.-built Avalon sedan, dubbed 299T, is another example of the move toward product divergence. The Avalon, which succeeds the Cressida, is scheduled to arrive this fall. It is a front-wheel-drive remake of the rear-drive Mark II family that debuted in Japan in 1992.
CAMRY-BASED FWD MINIVAN
In late 1997, an all-new minivan based on the 415T Camry will replace the Previa and Camry wagon. According to sources, the U.S.-built vehicle will be powered by a 3.0-liter V-6 and will differ sharply from the Previa's eggshell look and midengine layout.
The production target is 5,900 units a month, the sources said.
In Japan, the minivan segment will be filled in May 1996, by an all-new model designated 525T internally. The new model, about the size of the Nissan Prairie and referred to by Toyota engineers as 'the Prairie,' will replace the Previa-based Emina and Lucida.
According to the product charts, pilot production of the long-awaited LS400 successor (250T) will begin at the Tahara plant this June. Serial production at the rate of 6,900 a month will begin in September, and the car will go on sale in the United States shortly after.
The product summary also shows a new Crown-based coupe scheduled to appear in the fall of 1997, possibly as the successor to the current Lexus SC400. One theory among suppliers is that the new coupe will be more of a straight two-door derivative of the LS400 than is the SC400.
The Aristo/Lexus GS300 gets a facelift this fall, although the future product outline does not show a full-scale makeover before at least 1998.
Two Japan-market staples, the Crown Majesta and Royal, get a full model makeover in October 1995, four years after their 1991 Tokyo show debut. The Mark II family of sedans in Japan is due for a facelift this autumn.
But the mainstream Mark II sedan, including Cresta and Chaser versions, are shown being replaced outright in February 1997, a product cycle of five years and three months.
MR2 WON'T BE REPLACED
Toyota's MR2 mid-engine, two-seater is not scheduled to be replaced at all. Instead, the 10-year-old model, now in its second generation, will eventually cease production and it will be replaced by a sporty, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sport sedan in the vein of a BMW 3-series.
Although details are scarce, the vehicle - code-named 038T - might be derived from Toyota's AXV series of concept sedans.
The slow-selling Sera coupe also will not be remodeled. The once-hot gullwing specialty car, which managed just 55 registrations in March, is the lowest-volume car in Toyota's history.
Meanwhile, Toyota is pushing aggressively into the 'RV' segment, which in Japan is broadly defined to include minivans, wagons and sport-utilities.
The push is sending shock waves through the industry. For example, the RAV 4 that is scheduled to debut next week ends Suzuki Motor Corp.'s exclusive hold on the small sport-utility segment.
The 2.0-liter, three-door RAV 4 will be introduced in Japan at an estimated price range of $14,500 to $17,500 - roughly $9,700 below any of Toyota's other sport-utility vehicles in Japan and comparable to a 1.6-liter version of Suzuki's Escudo/Sidekick.
Output is set at 5,200 units per month. The RAV 4 is expected to be introduced in the United States later this year, although sales expectations will be modest. A five-door variant, the 153T, will be launched in Japan in May 1995.
Also in the segment, the U.S.-specified, 4-wheel-drive 4Runner (185T), will be overhauled in January, 1996, and the four-door Land Cruiser (404T) gets a full model change in May 1996.
Meanwhile, the small pickup produced at NUMMI, Toyota's joint venture with General Motors in California, will be replaced by new 2wd and 4wd versions beginning in January. Production is forecast at 8,300 units per month, compared with an actual average of 9,500 a month last year and 12,700 last month.
While the product chart does not specify plans for the mid-sized T100 pickup, sources at Hino Motors, which builds the T100 in Japan, say they expect production to be moved to the United States next year. The company slashed output of the slow-selling vehicle to 1,000 a month last year, or about 25 percent of capacity.
CYCLES FOR KEY TOYOTA MODELS
LS400 9-89 10-94
Corolla 5-91 5-95
Crown 10-91 10-95
Camry 6-90 6-94
Mark II 10-92 2-97
Tercel 9-90 8-94
Japan-market models only