Toyota Has A Lot Riding On Its New Camry

In a massive, multi-city event that was kind of like announcing you've tweaked the taste of vanilla, Toyota yesterday unveiled the first major update since 2007 to its Camry, which has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for 13 of the last 14 years. It is the seventh generation of the vehicle, which launched as a competitor to the Honda Accord in 1983.

"When the new version hits dealer lots in early October, Toyota will back the launch with the largest marketing campaign in the car's history, blistering the airwaves with 40 new commercials and a pledge to retain its sales crown," Mike Ramsey reports in the Wall Street Journal.

"We want people to know we are back and are better and stronger," says U.S. quality chief Steve St. Angelo. "Everybody in the company knows how important the Camry is to our brand."

This was no plain-vanilla, pull-the-blanket-off-the-vehicle, run-of-the-assembly-line press conference, however. Toyota broadcast a live webcast around the world and had live presentations in Detroit, Hollywood and New York City, where people could get behind the wheel of the updated-if-not-quite-overhauled Camry. But the biggest event was at it production facility in Georgetown, Ky.



"So important is the new Camry to Toyota's recovery that the company's president, Akio Toyoda, traveled to Kentucky so he could drive the first completed car off the assembly line and proclaim '100% confidence' in the work of his designers and engineers," writes the New York Times' Nick Bunkley.

"You might say that this is an opportunity to show the world again what Toyota is all about," Toyoda told the assembled, calling the Camry "a symbol of Toyota's success" and "an opportunity to show the world again what Toyota is all about." The Camry accounted for 22% of Toyota's sales in the U.S. last year, but sales are down 8% this year.

The new version "is not flashy or groundbreaking but designed to rekindle sentiments among shoppers that Toyota is a dependable choice," Bunkley says is the analysts consensus. It also carries the Entune entertainment system, which lets drivers connect over the Internet to mobile applications such as Pandora.

"I thought the redesign will definitely please the loyal Camry buyer," analyst Jesse Toprak tells Greg Gardiner at the Detroit Free Press. "But it will probably fall short in conquesting large numbers of new buyers who haven't owned a Camry before." Toprak said essentially the same thing to other reporters but evidently gave Gardiner an exclusive on the gerund "conquesting."

Observing all the foofaraw surrounding the unveiling yesterday, Detroit News columnist Scott Burgess writes that a brief test drive revealed that the car "remains insanely quiet, has a solid ride and looks a little better." But he has bad news, too, he says: "It's still a Toyota Camry." Admittedly, he's not a big fan of the vehicle, which he compares to rooting for the New England Pats. (In the interests of a balanced report, I checked to see what the Boston Globe might say about the new Camry and the woeful Detroit Lions. Nada. The Herald picked up the AP copy which, fittingly, gave us a balanced, but-on-the-other hand report.

"But it remains to be seen whether Toyota can draw back buyers who started shopping other brands after Toyota was hit by huge recalls that involved sticky accelerators and floor mats that trapped gas pedals," reads the byline-free report. "Customers also ran into shortages this summer after Japan's earthquake disrupted production."

Toyota is dropping the base price of its core LE Camry model by $200 to $22,500 and is trimming $2,000 from the sticker of the more luxurious XLE, which will now be $24,725, Jerry Hirsch reports in the Los Angeles Times.

"Toyota is very hungry to win back consumer confidence and regain the leadership in that car segment," analyst Michelle Krebs tells Hirsch. "They have to be aggressive in pricing because they are no longer in a position where they can charge a big premium." finds that "the changes drew a restrained initial reaction in the trade press, with Automotive News noting that Toyota 'played it safe' in the redesign with absolutely no change in dimensions.... The irreverent auto blog Jalopnik said, '... even in red, it's still just as beige as you'd expect it to be.'"

The report points out that the Camry's competition has never been stronger, including the Hyundai Sonata, the upcoming redesigned Chevrolet Malibu, the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord.

You know, it occurs to me that I owned a Camry once. I don't remember too much about it. That's a good thing, I think. Don't get me started on that lemon of a Taurus....

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