Current Weather
The Spy FM

Toyota Redesigns The Camry, Aiming To Stay On Top

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
October 17, 2011

Tinkering with success can be a dangerous thing. A redesigned version of the Toyota Camry, America’s best-selling car for the last nine years, is going on sale in the U.S.

Toyota recently lost market share and has suffered through bad PR due to recalls, in addition to dealing with the continuing aftereffects of the Japanese earthquake. Toyota executives are betting on the new Camry to jump-start the company’s future.

The new Camry is so important to Toyota and the industry, I wanted to test one myself and get the opinion of wide-ranging experts.

When I got a test car, I first rolled up to a valet stand in Dearborn, Mich., where I met Ali Nehmi, a hotel valet. Nehmi drives a lot of cars and says the Camry is one of the nicer ones considering it’s a Toyota and it’s affordable.

“It’s a lot [sharper] than the older model. It’s a lot more aggressive,” Nehmi says. “[It] stands a lot nicer. And it’s a lot … sportier, a lot more edgier.”

Nehmi joked that he’d consider buying one but would first have to move out of Dearborn, home to Ford’s headquarters.

Toyota’s Crown Jewel

The new Toyota Camry looks lower to the ground, is less rounded and has slightly more masculine styling. But the thing is, it still looks like a Toyota Camry.

Goeff Wardle, who teaches car design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., says it’s much harder designing a Camry than, say, a Ferrari, by a lot.

“You’re looking at small improvements in many, many areas,” Wardle says. “[You're] trying to get a little bit more headroom, a little bit more legroom, trying to make the vehicle get better fuel consumption and at the same time, be very, very aware of what your competitors are doing.”

Wardle says Toyota is constantly tweaking and retweaking the Camry. It’s the company’s crown jewel, and Toyota cannot get it wrong, he says.

“They have to tread this really fine line between making the car more attractive, more desirable and more usable for their intended audience,” Wardle says. “They’ve got to get it just right. So they don’t take too many risks, but at the same time it can’t be a mediocre vehicle either.”

Chasing Evolving Tastes

If there’s a person who knows how tough it’s been for Toyota, it’s Bob Carter. Carter has been with the company for 30 years and he now heads the Toyota brand in North America. He’s been the one to steer the brand during some of the roughest times.

Carter says the company has to focus on the cars that consumers want to buy.

“Camry is the number one seller in the U.S.,” Carter notes. “Camry is our number one volume vehicle. So it’s critically important, but consumer tastes evolve over time. “

Baby boomers have always been kind of taken with the Camry, but that’s not necessarily true of Generation Xers or millennials. Carter believes that the Camry will eventually lose its crown as America’s top car, but says he’s working to make sure the next one is a Toyota. In the next 34 months, the company will introduce or completely overhaul more than 20 vehicles.

‘Not Interested In Making A Statement’

In the parking lot of an industry conference, I took Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Automotive, for her first viewing of a 2012 Camry. (And let me note here that when Toyota loaned me the new Camry for a test drive, they made sure it was in my favorite color — red — and that the radio was tuned to NPR).

“Keep in mind: the Camry buyer is an appliance buyer,” Lindland said as she walked around the car. “God love ‘em, but they’re appliance buyers. They’re not as interested in making a statement on the road.”

Lindland says the conservative redesign of the Camry will be very reassuring to existing Toyota owners. The question is whether the Camry can lure new buyers to the brand because that, she says, is what Toyota needs. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center