Toyota Redesigns Camry from the Ground Up to Slow SUV Defections Toyota Motor Co.

 2018 Camry SE 12

Toyota Redesigns Camry to Slow SUV Defections

Camry deliveries were down 12% in the first five months of the year, as roomier SUVs increasingly rule the road.

When the completely redesigned Camry goes on sale next month, the most popular versions will cost about $900 more while including as much as $4,000 in additional features.

This is Toyota Motor Corp.’s master plan to stem the tide of buyers abandoning sedans in droves in favor of the new American family car: the sport utility vehicle.

As the best-selling sedan in the U.S. for the last 15 years, Camry hasn’t seen as drastic a drop-off in sales as some competitors’ sedans. But keeping demand for the car afloat has been costly: Toyota is shelling out a record $3,258 in incentives per Camry sold this year, according to Edmunds.com.

Deliveries were still down 12% in the first five months of the year, as roomier SUVs increasingly rule the road.

The redesign “definitely has the possibility to stabilize” Camry sales, Jim Lentz, the company’s North American CEO, said in an interview in York Township, Mich. As a result, Toyota expects rebates and other discounts “will be a fraction of what they are today.”

Toyota’s release of a new Camry comes at a time when few other automakers are doubling down on passenger cars. Ford Motor Co. said June 20  it will cease production of Focus compacts in North America to lower costs as U.S. sales sink. General Motors Co., meanwhile, has permanently cut about 3,300 employees at three car plants and has announced extended summer shutdowns at several other factories.

Camry Overhaul

The Camry is still Toyota’s second-best seller in the U.S., behind the RAV4 SUV, and executives are banking that the model’s revamp keeps it that way. Toyota has redesigned the 2018 Camry from the ground up, with 100% new parts for the first time since the car’s introduction 35 years ago, chief engineer Masato Katsumata said in an interview in Newberg, Oregon. Usually, only about a third of the parts are new with each subsequent model and the rest are carried over.

Prices for the 2018 model Camry will range from $23,495 for a bare-bones, four-cylinder model to $34,950 for a top-of-the-line V-6 XSE, according to a statement released Wednesday. That’s a $900 average increase for the mid-range LE and SE versions, said Jack Hollis, group vice president for U.S. sales. Additional features include a stiffer body and double-wishbone rear suspension for sportier driving, an eight-speed transmission and electronic sensors that detect pedestrians passing in front of the car.

The hybrid LE option gets a combined 52 miles per gallon in city and highway driving, almost matching the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. The Camry hybrid’s battery is thin enough to be stowed under its rear seat instead of in the trunk, helping lower the car’s center of gravity and allowing the hybrid to perform better on a racetrack than its V6 stablemate, Katsumata said.

One factory-built version of the Camry features a red-leather interior; a two-tone, black-and-white roof and the same catfish-mouth lower grille that Toyota puts through the paces every Sunday during Nascar races.

Car Competition

Nissan Motor Co.’s Altima and Hyundai Motor Co.’s Optima will face the most sales pressure from the new Camry, according to Jessica Caldwell, an Edmunds analyst. An upcoming redesign should help Honda Motor Co. defend sales of its Accord sedan, she said, and U.S. brands like Chevrolet usually attract a different set of buyers. Honda plans to unveil the new Accord on July 14 and start selling the vehicle later this year.

Caldwell said the sportier Camry design may not be enough to slow the shift away from passenger cars, as buyers like that SUVs are bigger, offer more flexible cargo capacity and boast a higher ride height. Passenger cars were just 38% of U.S. auto sales during the first five months of the year, down from more than half as recently as 2012.

“It’s not that Toyota has been making a bad Camry,” Caldwell said. “The market is shifting through no fault of their own.”

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