TOKYO — Many things are smaller in Japan than in America, from hotel rooms to beverage cups at McDonald's. But the size disparity in cars is especially true.
In that spirit, Toyota last week launched a trimmed-down version of its new-generation Corolla, solely for the Japan market, where customers wanted a smaller car.
The Japanese sedan and the wagon variants are shorter and narrower than their U.S. and European counterparts, and also ride on shorter wheelbases.
Catering to local tastes is an obvious move. But the architectural tweaks show the limits of Toyota's new approach to global cost and efficiency mindfulness, a one-size-fits-all vehicle strategy.
Known as the Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA, the approach was hailed as a breakthrough in standardization that would save time and cost in product development and manufacturing. But with the latest Corolla, engineers have actually invested more time and effort revamping the car for Japan, even though it shares the new TNGA platform with its overseas siblings.
"It was difficult to reduce the size while trying to standardize the design as a global model," Toyota spokeswoman Petwilai Banlangpattama said.
She noted several challenges in its development. Among them:
- Retaining the balance of body contours, front silhouette and characters lines despite shrinking the overall vehicle width by as much as 1.8 inches.
- Keeping the same interior space in the narrower car. To do that, engineers had to make several changes to the body, such as using thinner doors that could still accommodate the same windows when they are rolled down.
- And because the space between the body and the side mirrors was also tighter, designers had to add extra aerodynamic fins to help mitigate increased wind noise.
But Executive Vice President Moritaka Yoshida called the more compact Corolla a "best fit" for Japan's narrow streets. Japanese customers wanted a car that could fit into cramped parking spaces, make tight turns and deliver easy entry and egress in crowded quarters.
The Japan-market Corolla sedan is about 5.3 inches shorter than the overseas model, is 1.4 inches narrower, and has a wheelbase that is 2.4 inches shorter.
The wagon is 6.1 inches shorter than the overseas version sold in Europe. It is 1.8 inches skinnier, and also has a wheelbase that's 2.4 inches shorter.
Despite the modifications for Japan, using the new TNGA platform still beats the alternative — developing a separate vehicle. That was how Toyota used to approach the Corolla for its home market. The outgoing 11th-generation Japan-market Corolla was a smaller car that rode on an entirely different platform from its global counterparts. They were Corollas in name only.
But starting with the 12th generation, all Corollas worldwide moved to the global TNGA platform. And even though the Japanese Corolla is smaller than its international versions, it is still measurably bigger than the outgoing model. In that way, Toyota has reached an acceptable size compromise.