DEARBORN, Mich. – I came to the Automotive Hall of Fame to view the live webcast introducing the redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry. There was also a short test drive of the new midsize family sedan.
The importance of the Camry to Toyota’s coffers and to the company’s image cannot be overstated. The Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for 13 years and it’s been No. 1 for nine straight years.
The Camry comprises 22 percent of Toyota’s sales. The company has sold 15 million globally, with almost 10 million of them here in the U.S.
This is big stuff.
When Toyota first started having an impact in the American market, it was with the fuel efficient and well-built Toyota Corolla. Easily, for the last decade, that role has been assumed by the Camry – the Camry is an icon for Toyota as well as all midsize sedans.
Toyota designers accomplished an intriguing bit of sleight of hand. All of the 2012 Camry’s sheet metal has been changed and 90 percent of the new car’s parts have been re-engineered, but the 2012 Camry is still instantly recognizable as a Camry.
Toyota said, “The 2012 Camry employs an elegantly simple but modern form, emphasizing a wider, lower stance than previous models. The design conveys an architectural statement through crisp, precise character lines, with a more strongly curved door cross-section and more defined rocker panel molding on some trim lines.”
There are three engine choices: a 2.5-liter four cylinder that makes 178 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, a 3.5 liter V6 that makes 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque and a gasoline electric hybrid which makes a combined 200 horsepower.
All of the engines are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions except for the hybrid which has a continuously variable transmission (CVT). There are eight trim lines. Prices start at $21,995 for the four-cylinder Camry L and top out at $27,400 for the Camry Hybrid XLE.
The company is still recovering from a quality debacle that involved recalls and diminished consumers’ confidence in its products.
An earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear meltdowns in Japan also impaired consumer confidence. But most challenging of all may be this number; the average age of a Camry buyer is 60.
Toyota’s got to do something to lower the median age of Camry buyers without alienating current owners. And I think the 2012 Camry’s main task is to attract a little younger buyer while satisfying the current customer base.
After I get the 2012 Camry for a week-long test drive, I’ll have a better feel for whether Toyota’s sales flagship can pull it off.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.