LOS ANGELES — In a market now tilted 70-30 toward light trucks, why does Toyota bother to invest in cars?
Because in that smaller market, Toyota is a giant. And it has even more ground to stomp now that the Detroit 3 have decided to vacate several car segments.
"There are still people out there looking for passenger cars," Bill Fay, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota Motor North America, told Automotive News. "And if there are less options out there in the market, I guess we figure, for now, that's good for us."
Thanks to the versatile Toyota New Global Architecture underpinning more of its vehicles, the company is able to slice and dice that car market in new ways to generate volume and profit.
"The TNGA platform as a strategy has opened us up to just about everything that a manufacturer would want to be," Jack Hollis, general manager of Toyota Division, said at the Los Angeles Auto Show, where Toyota introduced a Corolla Hybrid, an all-wheel-drive Prius and racing-inspired editions of its Camry and Avalon sedans.
TNGA vehicles are characterized by a lower center of gravity, increased body rigidity and decreased chassis friction that combine to produce better looks and a more spirited driving experience, Toyota says.
In addition to more creative styling on the Camry, Avalon and RAV4, Hollis said, "It has allowed us to also create more efficiency and more effective use of space. So while we might not have been able to fit a certain engine into a certain vehicle [before], now it can be. The TNGA has opened almost every single vehicle to growth and innovation."
The Corolla Hybrid illustrates the segmentation possibilities. Under the skin, the vehicle is almost identical to a Prius, according to Yoshiki Konishi, who is chief engineer of the Corolla and also led the development of the new architecture. The main differences, he said, are the body shape, the suspension and the software that controls acceleration and engine feel.
So why bother with two nameplates for small hybrids? For one thing, the Corolla, as the world's best-selling nameplate, is in a better position to spread Toyota's hybrid technology globally, Konishi said. The same Corolla Hybrid is going into 90 other countries and regions, Konishi said.