2012 Toyota Camry Pulls Out All The StopsBy Scott Doggett August 23, 2011
Toyota Motor Corp. is counting on the redesigned 2012 Camry to restore the company's reputation after several years of recalls and poor PR. Despite intensifying competition in the midsize-sedan market, we have no reason to believe that the best-selling passenger-car in America nine years running won't extend its streak with the 2012. Compared to the current Camry, the 2012 is roomier, more refined and quieter inside, gets better fuel economy and has more safety features. One other box to check after the recall turmoil of the past 15 months: the 2012 Camry has undergone more reliability testing. Moreover, it's also generally better-priced. As Bob Carter, head of Toyota USA, told AutoObserver, "This is a vehicle that we've got to get right."
Toyotas largely managed to do that, but the 2012 Camry lineup won't please everyone. For starters, a manual transmission will no longer be available, even in Camrys fitted with the carryover 3.5-liter V6. "A manual transmission, with the exception of the sports-car segment, is so insignificant (in terms of take rates) in the market," Carter said in an interview at the 2012 Camry media preview in rural Washington state. "Dealers remind me all the time, 'I'll take all you can give me - unless it's got a manual gearbox.' Consumers have moved on."
The loss of a manual-transmission option is but one of the many fewer choices. The current-generation Camry has a theoretical build of 1,246 combinations. The 2012 Camry will be available in a startlingly meager 36 combinations, because consumers have told Toyota they want a simpler ordering process, Carter said. The 2012 Camry will offer excellent value, regardless of trim level or options selected. There will be four trim packages from which to choose, and despite the significant improvements in the model, any 2012 Camry will be priced close to or less than a comparably-equipped 2011.
The 2011 Camry L, the base model produced in very low volume and sold almost exclusively to fleets, starts at $20,195. The new 2012 Camry L will start at $21,995 (plus $760 for destination), the core 2012 Camry LE package for comfort and value will be priced at $22,500. The sportier Camry SE, currently priced at $22,965, will start at $23,000. The premium trim package Camry XLE ($26,725 for MY 2011), will start at $24,725, a $2,000 reduction. Toyota notes that comparably equipped, prices for all trim levels have dropped.
Moving On Up
With the LE's pricing staying pretty much the same and the higher-grade SE and XLE trim packages trimmed, Toyota expects the ratio of buyers choosing the LE package to drop from 65 percent presently to about 50 percent, with roughly half of the buyers opting for the SE or XLE trim packages. Buyers thinking they can do better than the MSRP for any of the trim packages or for the 2012 Camry Hybrid, to be detailed in a separate story can forget about it. "When you stack up all the MSRPs, what you'll see is a very competitive value story with Camry. You won't see Toyota throwing $3,000 on the hood" of a Camry as an added incentive to purchase, Carter said. With its 2012 pricing strategy, Toyota anticipates selling in excess of 360,000 2012 Camrys, of which 50,000 or so will be hybrid models. The company has the ability to produce well more than 400,000 as the industry recovers, Carter said.
Regardless of trim selection, all 2012 Camrys will offer more interior space. Control panels on the door trim have been moved higher to create more room for knees. Redesigned seatbacks provide more legroom for people in the back. The ride is noticeably quieter, thanks to the installation of new or additional sound-absorbing material on areas where road noise typically can creep into a vehicle. The model's chief engineer, Yukihiro Okane, told AutoObserver his design team "went to the extreme to quiet noises that are near the levels of human speech." All Camrys now will be fitted with low-rolling-resistance tires to improve fuel economy, but an all-new rear underbody and rear-suspension geometry, as well as tweaks to the shock absorbers, stabilizer bar and MacPherson strut front suspension, effectively offset the stiffer ride such tires typically produce.
Except for the 2012 Camry Hybrid, which uses an all-new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, all of the 2012 models will be fitted with the carryover 2.5-line 4-cylinder introduced in mid-cycle during the 2010 model year or the carry-over 3.5-liter V6. The 2012 Camrys sold in most of the U.S. and fitted with the 4-pot engine will generate 178 horsepower at 6,000 rpm (versus the current 179 horsepower) and 170 lb.-ft. of torque at 4100 rpm. However, Camrys with 4-cylinder engines (excluding the Hybrid) sold in California and more than a dozen other states that adhere to the Golden State's emissions rules will sacrifice some power to produce less greenhouse gas. Still, the California emissions models will enjoy more horsepower than the comparable 2011 Camry (173 horsepower versus 169), while sacrificing some torque (165 lb.-ft. versus 169). That said, Toyota engineers promise that due to gear-ratio adjustments, the newer Camrys will have more torque at low- and mid-range rpm, where it is more productive.
Four-cylinder fuel economy is up over the current model, too: 25/35/28 miles per gallon city/highway/combined versus the current model's 22/32/26. Meanwhile, the V6 will continue to produce 268 hp at 6200 rpm and 248 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm. Improvements to oil-related friction will increase the engine's efficiency to 21/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined versus 20/29/23 now.
The Camry has been a strong seller for Toyota since it appeared on the scene in 1991 and has been the best-selling car in America 13 out of the past 14 years. Toyota's Georgetown plant, which produces the Camry, Camry Hybrid, Venza and Avalon, now is the largest-volume automotive plant in North America. It has built nearly 9 million vehicles, 6.5 million of them Camrys. Along the way, Georgetown has earned more J. D. Power & Associations awards for quality than any other auto plant in North America, Toyota said.
That's one of the big reasons more than 90 percent of all Camrys built during the past 15 years are still on the road today, according to Toyota. Needless to say, the last thing the automaker wants to do is risk messing up its winning Camry formula (according to Carter, about half of the people who buy a 2012 Camry will be previous Camry owners). But the automaker also knows that with competition from the formidable all-new Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Volkswagen Passat and other models, the Camry - like Madonna - has to regularly alter its appearance or lose admirers.
With that in mind, "emotional appeal" was emphasized during the 2012 Camry's development process, vehicle chief engineer Okane said. "We wanted to enhance the design with a modern, expressive look that made a bold statement. While the exterior has precise lines and a nimble appearance, the interior upper dash was inspired by handcrafted leather with a three-dimensional construction and high-quality feel. The center-cluster design has the look of a floating portable-music device."
With its wedgy front and rear roof lines, angled door handles, a trunk edge that replicates a spoiler and other design features that give the Camry a more aggressive look, Toyota knows it will alienate some Camry fans but hopes their number will be greatly offset by an increase in young buyers. It's probably a smart move, given that the Camry is 20 years old and competitors such as Hyundai's Sonata and Elantra are viewed as more risk-taking designs, not to mention still enjoying fresh-model buzz. As Carter put it: "Elantra's brand new. Sonata's brand new. Versus Toyota, our core vehicles are close to the end of their lifecycles."
To overcome the pesky new challengers and stave off older rivals, especially the Honda Accord, Toyota feels it must continue to offer a Camry with a V6 (Hyundai took the chance of going four-cylinder-only with the all-new Sonata and the strategy didnt hamper sales), which when mated with the SE trim package gives the vehicle a whole 'nother driving experience. The SE grade features special suspension tuning for optimum handling, hip-hugging seats, 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels, sportier tires, paddle shifters and a responsive sequential-shift mode.
On twisty rural Washington roads it was nearly impossible to keep a frisky red SE V6 under posted speed limits. "When you look at the SE V6 in our focus groups, we're attracting a little bit different buyer on that SE V6 than we are on the current generation," Carter said. "It's really appealing to a 40- or 50-year-old male in percentages that today's vehicle doesnt bring in. The importance of that V6 is to bring even more incremental buyers in, and particularly professional men." The SE trim package can be purchased with the four-cylinder if improved fuel economy is a priority for the driver.
Restoring Lost Credibility
Carter's basically a marketing guy, and so it had to be taken with a grain of salt when he said that the 2012 Camry "is the most technologically advanced Toyota ever built." Certainly, it is packed with tech features, not the least of which are the top two of the five available all-new audio systems. The premium setup features premium navigation, a JBL 10-speaker audio system, HD radio with iTunes tagging, advanced voice recognition - the works. The new sedan will get Toyota's Entune, a brand-new, cloud-based infotainment system that recently debuted in the Prius V hybrid wagon. Entune uses an easily downloaded iPhone, Android or RIM smartphone (possibly others as well) application to feed Pandora and iHeartRadio to the audio system, and Bing location data and a suite of reservation services bolster the functionality of the touchscreen navigation system. The Camry's navigation and sound systems genuinely overfloweth with wow factor.
But it's the vehicle's safety technology and quality that Toyota views as crucial to the success of the 2012 Camry. Virtually every executive at Toyota, from its chairman on down, has admitted the company's image has been tarnished by recent recalls and consumer complaints. Every executive attending the 2012 Camry press briefing said the company is counting on the redesigned sedan to restore its reputation as a manufacturer of safe and reliable vehicles. "Camry" more than one executive intoned, "is synonymous with Toyota." And so the engineering team assigned to the 2012 Camry studied more than double the number of parts as compared to the previous-generation Camry, anticipating any possible issues in the early stages of development and improving the design quality of the parts, Okane said. "We also conducted three times as many on-road prototype tests here in the U.S. than has been normal," he said.
The results include increased use of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel, increased use of laser welding, 56 additional welds to increase overall body rigidity, 10 standard airbags, standard front seatbelt pretensioners, improved anti-whiplash headrests, improved body structure energy management for frontal and side impacts and an available blind-spot monitor. It would be difficult to drive any configuration of the 2012 Camry and not walk away from the model feeling that the multiplicity of improvements means Toyota has done it right. But then, as Carter implied, Toyota had little choice but to insure getting it right the Camry essentially is the franchise.