OJAI, Calif. -- Kenichiro Fuse is in charge of making sure Toyota's redesigned Camry sedan stays on top of the industry's sales charts.
The car's chief engineer strived to add more visual interest and refinement after focus groups said the current car was boring.
At the media introduction of the 2007 Camry here, Fuse spoke to Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin about the next-generation family sedan.
How did Toyota cut the Camry's cycle to barely longer than four years, instead of the traditional five-year cycle that you and of your competitors usually use?
We went early, according to plan. Toyota has flexibility, and we can change development times.
We started development in early 2002, with focus group research done in American consumers' homes. By September 2003, the vehicle concept was agreed upon by all sides, designers, stylists, the product side and engineering.
By summer 2004, we froze the design and engineering specifications.
One difference with the new Camry was that we took only nine months for concept confirmation, which was much less time than the old one.
What vehicles did you benchmark in terms of design?
In 2003, we researched American customers to see what they wanted from the next Camry. We showed these focus groups a BMW 3 series and 5 series, some sleek American cars and the current Camry. We interviewed Altima, Accord and Passat customers. I was a little shocked that people thought the Camry is boring.
What sort of cost-down or decontenting measures were taken with the Camry?
It wasn't just engineering or cheaper parts. We looked at the manufacturing effort, the supply effort and the purchasing network. In planning the vehicle, I was told I had a limited budget but that I also had to make a nice car.
I was not sure I would be able to do this, but I did things like deleting the trim from inside the trunk lid on the lower trim grades.
But on the flip side, the hood is held open by an elegant gas-strut system, instead of a cheaper prop-rod. Wasn't that an expensive way to go?
Sixty percent of Camry customers are women. The Camry is a large car. When you open the hood, we could not compromise with a prop rod. We didn't gather a bunch of small items to cut costs, but did big items.
The old five-speed automatic transmission was much more expensive than the new six-speed automatic. The new transmission has 20 percent fewer parts and reduced weight. I don't know how much less it costs to build, but from the start of development, engineering was working to reduce parts and increase performance.
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at [email protected]