• Bloomberg


Toyota Motor Corp. plans to unveil a redesigned Camry in Detroit next month, rolling out a new take on the best-selling car in the U.S. after just three years as Asian automakers defend their turf in the shrinking market for midsize sedans.

Automakers usually wait about six years between major model changes. The current Camry design is dominated by a straight line that slopes forward between the body panels and windows, all the way from back to front. In contrast, internet spy photos of the upcoming 2018 Camry show shoulder-like curves beneath the back window, and a hood that plunges toward a grille that stretches almost all the way across the car.

“For years, we’ve had a reputation for high-quality, durable products that were perhaps somewhat conservative in design,” said Bob Carter, head of sales for the Toyota and Lexus brands in the U.S. “We’re looking to hold that position, and to add to it emotional design and fun-to-drive characteristics. “

At a Thursday reception in Detroit, Toyota executives revealed the plan to show a revamped Camry at the city’s North American International Auto Show in January. The automaker’s new model likely will have some company: Nissan Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Co. will all be unveiling updated designs for their core midsize sedans at the show, according to the trade journal Automotive News.

“The midsize segment hasn’t had a lot of product news,” Carter said. “But perhaps now we’re going to see some real innovation that should sustain it, and who knows, bring some growth back.”

Kia Motors Corp. proved design matters in midsize cars when sales climbed after a bold revamping of its Optima sedan in 2008 and then fell with conservative styling that came later, said Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision, a San Diego consumer-research company. Now Kia and Hyundai, its corporate affiliate, are getting more aggressive with styling, too.

“The Japanese are leading for now, but if these new entrants provide high quality and innovative styling, they’ll conquest the Japanese just like the Japanese conquested (sic) Detroit in the 1990s,” Edwards said.

Toyota sold 327,015 Camrys in the U.S. during the first 10 months of this year, down 9.4 percent from a year earlier. That’s in line with the industrywide drop for midsize cars.

The Camry is still the most popular U.S. car, and midsize cars remain the second-largest segment of the market, trailing only car-based sport utility vehicles. Those so-called crossover SUVs, with higher seats and more cargo space, posted an 8.1 percent increase through October. This included a 12 percent jump for Toyota’s RAV4 crossover to 286,809. By next year, the RAV4 could be outselling Camry, Carter said.

The new Camry represents a large volume increase for the so-called Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA, which debuted on the Prius hybrid last year. Toyota officials have said the TNGA program aims to trim manufacturing costs by as much as 30 percent through, among other things, long-term contracts that help suppliers invest in flexible component sets for a wide variety of vehicles.

By the end of the decade, front-wheel-drive TNGA vehicles will account for two-thirds of Toyota’s global output, said Alan Baum, an independent auto analyst in Bloomfield Township, Michigan.

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