KOHLER, Wis. - Toyota calls its new Sienna 'The Camry of Minivans.'
As well it should. Aside from borrowing the engine and transmission from the sedan, the Sienna also will stretch the Camry platform. And it will be built alongside the Camry at Toyota's Georgetown, Ky., plant.
But Toyota's comparison of the two vehicles extends further than that.
The automaker wants consumers to notice that the Sienna drives like a sedan and that it will have Camrylike qual- ity.
'Today's mini- van buyer has a clear and definite image of what a minivan is supposed to be, and we're convinced Sienna hits the target squarely,' said Alan DeCarr, vice president of series teams for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
'It will be a mainstream product in every way, including design, layout, functional features and, most importantly, price,' DeCarr told journalists at the press introduction here.
One thing the Sienna is not is a continuation of the outgoing minivan, the Previa.
'Previa was a revolutionary concept (with a mid-ship engine and rear drive) and a marvel of space utilization; it was very costly to produce,' said Shinji Kamiyashiki, Toyota Sienna chief engineer and project general manager.
'Conceptually, it didn't fit the American consumer's formula of what a minivan should be,' he added. 'And it most certainly did not fit their pocketbook.'
KEY FEATURES FOR U.S.
A minivan developed for the U.S. market needed to be much cheaper to build, while having front drive, V-6 power, utility, functionality - and lots of cupholders, Kamiyashiki joked.
At 114.2 inches, the Sienna's wheelbase fits right between Chrysler's Caravan and Grand Caravan, and is several inches longer than the Honda Odyssey and the Nissan Quest. But the Sienna is just slimmer than the Quest and several inches narrower than the Chrysler vans.
Rather than have the Sienna meet the more lenient safety standards for minivans, Toyota designed it to have the same crash-and passive-safety criteria as the Camry, ES 300 and Corolla.
Standard features will include antilock brakes, 5-mph bumpers, a tire-pressure warning system, front seat-belt pretensioners, and adjustable headrests for all seating positions.
Variable intermittent wipers, auto-off headlamps, and remote fuel-door release are standard across the line. Front and rear occupants get accessory power points, while the split second- and third-row seats tumble forward to expose trays.
And vying for best-in-class status, the Sienna has up to 14 cupholders plus two holders for one-liter bottles.
Power sliding doors, a power driver's seat and rear air conditioning will either be optional or available on higher trim levels.
An interlock system prevents the sliding doors from shutting under their own weight when the vehicle is parked on a down slope. The same feature also automatically halts the slider when the fuel filler door is open.
A passenger-side power sliding door will be introduced mid-year.
Mating Sienna and Camry production at the Georgetown, Ky., plant is a tricky task. There must be at least two Camrys between each Sienna, because some tasks on the Sienna take three times as long on the minivan, said Cheryl Jones, manager of Georgetown's No. 2 assembly plant.
Georgetown has extra workers in seven places on the assembly line just working on Siennas. But the number of roving workers has declined as the learning curve has progressed. For example, the same workers who take off the Camry's rear doors also remove the Sienna sliders.
Given the capacity constraints at Georgetown, Toyota is no threat to beat Chrysler Corp.'s 538,807 minivans sold in 1996, not to mention Ford's 209,033 Windstars.
Toyota is aiming to sell about 70,000 Siennas annually, with 90 percent of volume being four-door models.
The 1998 Sienna goes on sale Sept. 17.