LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. - America's No. 1 selling car is going topless.
The Toyota Camry line gets a little excitement as it nears the end of its product cycle, in the form of the biggest ragtop Toyota has ever offered in North America.
The 2000 Toyota Solara convertible is the product of Toyota's North American operations and sunroof specialist ASC Inc. of Southgate, Mich. Production is limited this year to 3,500 units. In 2001, it will be at 6,000 when full production is reached. The convertible is created from the Solara coupe.
Don Esmond, Toyota general manager, said the Solara convertible is a 'bit of an image car.'
'The Solara (coupe) has done well for us, helped grow that whole mid-sized segment for us,' Esmond said during a preview for the car. 'And a convertible helps refresh the whole market.'
Ragtop enlivens lineup
The Camry convertible also helps freshen a lineup that's approaching the last year in the product cycle. The Camry is expected to undergo a major redesign for the 2002 model year.
Plus, it doesn't hurt if the Solara convertible adds a few thousand units to Camry's lead as the No. 1 selling car in the United States. Toyota's Camry line, which has been composed of a sedan and the Solara coupe, has captured the U.S. sales crown for the past three years. In 1999, 448,162 Camrys were sold. Solara coupes accounted for about 52,000 of those sales.
The Solara convertible goes on sale in April.
The Solara coupe's body shell is built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. in Cambridge, Ontario. It is then moved nearby to a new ASC production facility. ASC removes the roof and performs structural reinforcement. The body then moves back to Toyota Motor Manufacturing, where it is painted and is fitted with running gear. The car returns to ASC for final detail work, including interior trim, quarter windows and convertible top installation.
Tom Chan, senior principal engineer for the convertible, said the need for additional structural changes and welding prompted Toyota to seek outside assistance. If the entire convertible was produced at the Toyota assembly plant, the production line would need to be slowed to handle the additional work, he said.
The 2000 Solara is available in SE and SLE trim. Toyota executives expect the convertible conversion to be priced $4,000 to $5,000 above a comparably equipped Solara coupe. The four-cylinder Solara SE coupe has a sticker price of $20,193, including transportation, while the V-6 Camry coupe SLE has a $26,293 sticker.
The Solara convertible's power folding top features a full headliner, automatic-down rear quarter windows and a glass rear window. A rear deck spoiler is standard on all models. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are optional on all Solara convertibles, and traction control is offered on the SLE model.
Toyota's 3.0-liter 200-hp V-6 is available on the SE and standard on the SLE. A 2.2-liter, 136-hp four-cylinder engine will be available in about three months after introduction of the V-6 model and will be standard in the SE model. Automatic transmission is standard on all models.
The new Solara convertible will compete in what Toyota calls the premium end of the high-middle segment, which includes the Chrysler Sebring and Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Advertising starts in May, with the convertible featured in a new commercial. The Solara convertible also will be supported by print ads and the Toyota Web site.