Bob Carter, vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales, stands in front of a group of people who will have less influence than they probably imagine they do, automotive writers from those name-brand buff books with circulation in the millions to bloggers who may toil in basements. They’ll have less influence in this case in particular for a simple reason: Because Carter—who had, with his colleagues in the Toyota organization, undergone more than two years of challenge, from the Great Recession to alleged quality/safety problems that led to a thoroughgoing reassessment of how the Toyota organization does what it does and where it does it to the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster, which had an effect on the availability of products in markets around the world, including the U.S., which Carter is responsible for—is introducing the seventh-generation Camry.
And while some of them may sniff, know this: As Carter enumerates: “It’s been 28 years since Camry first went on sale, and 25 years since Toyota broke ground for the Georgetown [Kentucky] plant . . . It has been the best-selling car in America nine years running and 13 of the past 14 years. The current generation car has been No. 1 every year since it was introduced. And Georgetown is now the largest automotive plant in North America. It has built nearly nine million vehicles, 6.5 million of them are Camrys . . . Along the way, Georgetown has earned more J. D. Power awards for quality than any other plant in North America. 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.”
So one can only think that given this track record, when the Camry goes on sale, and as the U.S. auto market continues to improve, that the ~360,000 annual production of midsize sedans— built both at Georgetown as well as at the Toyota/Subaru facility in Lafayette, Indiana—will pretty much be sold, regardless of what the people in that room think.
Wait a minute. Midsize sedan? Didn’t the people at Toyota get the memo? The market that’s now hot is compact cars, the vehicles that get higher miles per gallon, a crucial consideration now that gas prices are on their inexorable climb, even though there may be some hysteresis in its pattern. But here Carter thinks that there is something that Camry has that will make it all the more appealing (in what Carter describes as “industry’s most competitive segment”) to customers (and he points out that about half of all Camry owners buy another Camry, and with more than 6.8-million Camrys on the road right now, that is a robust base): miles per gallon.
As in: “If you’re looking for fuel economy, the 4-cylinder provides a best-in-class 35 mpg on the highway. Speaking of fuel economy, at 200 horsepower and 43 miles per gallon, the hybrid is simply in a class of its own.” And in addition to the 2.5-liter, 178-hp four, there is a 3.5-liter, 268-hp V6 that provides an estimated 21 city/30 highway mpg, which is said to be the best for any current V6-powered midsize. So Carter says that when they are able to provide mpgs like that, what’s the point of buying a smaller car?
Carter knows that the people in the room are generally more enthusiastic about products that aren’t “appliance-like” as Camrys are sometimes described by them (and competitors) as being. While the Camry may not stir the soul—although there is a distinctly different SE trim package that Carter thinks will be of interest to some guys in their 40s and 50s—he knows what the customers are looking for, and he cites a list of questions that need to be considered vis-à-vis this car: “Is it safe? Is it reliable and economical? Does it offer good value and low ownership cost? Is it comfortable for me and my passengers, especially in the back seat? Does it fit me and my lifestyle? Does it make me feel good about being eco-friendly? Does it make my life easier and more fun?”
So maybe Carter doesn’t include “Does it have a low 0 to 60 time? Does it carve through the corners like a laser in a block of ice? Will it be a magnet for those of the opposite sex who resemble the inevitably attractive characters in a beer commercial?”
But that’s not the point. This is the seventh-gen Camry. The car that has become synonymous with Quality, Durability and Reliability.
Maybe it doesn’t have the “soul” that the people in the room are seeking like mystics. But it also doesn’t make the guy at the repair shop rich on the customer’s hard-earned money. It doesn’t leave one wondering how they’re going to get to work in the morning because it won’t start or the kids to baseball practice or the orthodontist (who is probably getting rich on the customer’s hardearned money).
But then you look at the stats and you realize that (1) Toyota is serious about continuing the run that’s it’s been making in sales, all of the kicks and buffets, deserved and undeserved, manmade and natural notwithstanding, and (2) it hasn’t forgotten why people buy cars like the Camry.
Like the Camry, but not just as many as them.
• What’s Old About the New Camry?
The appropriate term is “carryover.” And in the case of the 20102 Camry, the carryover takes the form of the 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, 178-hp, fourcylinder engine. It isn’t all that “old,” as it was introduced in model year ’10. It provides an estimated 25/35/28 mpg (city/highway/combined) in the new model. The numbers for the previous model are 22/32/26 mpg. We’ll get to why that’s the case.
The other carryover is the other engine, a 3.5-liter, DOHC, 24-valve, 268-hp, six-cylinder. There were some modifications made to this engine, like the use of a dual-stage fiber-reinforced, laser-welded plastic intake manifold. The fuel efficiency numbers for this engine are 21/30/25 mpg. The engine in the six-gen Camry: 20/29/23 mpg.
Both engines are mated to six-speed automatics. The nomenclature used by Toyota to modify “transmission” in the cases of each of the transmissions (one for the four and one for the six): “Super Electronically Controlled.” They do, help improve fuel efficiency.
But as for anything else that’s carried over from the previous generation Camry to this one: Nothing.
• The Secret Sauce
Simply stated: the secret sauce for achieving improved fuel efficiency for the 2012 Camry is less sauce.
Or said another way: the new Camry is lighter than the old.
That is, chief engineer Yukihiro Okane and his team worked to take weight out of the vehicle. With results like the chart here shows.
And it is not like they left stuff out of the car. For example, they even upped the number of airbags to 10. Whereas the sixth-gen has driver and front passenger front airbags, driver and front passenger seat- ounted side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, and a driver’s knee airbag, in the new car there are a knee airbag for the front passenger and rear-seat outboard passenger side-impact airbags.
And they added less-visible things, too, like 56 more welds to make it a more solid structure. (In case you’re wondering, there are 28 more per side, and applied at the rear door frame, front door frame at the B-pillar rocker, front door frame at the A-pillar, lower rear frame member, and underbody. For greater specificity you’ll have to get your hands on a body-in-white. Good luck.)
What they left out was mass. And Okane says the major way they did this was through the extensive deployment of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels. Simply: stronger steel means that there is no compromise in strength or safety, just the need for less of it than more-conventional steels. (And while noting the safety aspect: let’s face it—if there is any auto company on Earth that is exceedingly serious about safety given the way that its reputation suffered through the Period of Unsubstantiated Safety Issues, it is Toyota, so they’ve taken measures like reinforcing things, designing collision energy absorption paths, using box-shaped pillar structures, putting overlapping box and gusset structures in the rear door . . .) There is more 440 MPa steel used in this structure than the last, as well as the introduction of 590 and 980 MPa steels (in applications like the front- and center-pillar reinforcements, and the rockers). They also increased the use of laser welding on the vehicle, which helps increase structural strength while reducing weight.
And there are other areas where there is weight taken out and performance enhanced. For example, an available audio package uses JBL (harman.com/automotive) GreenEdge Technology. The objective in developing this system was to improve sound performance (e.g., using a higher sound pressure level system means lifelike dynamics and lower transient distortion) and to reduce energy use (up to 58% power savings). Even though this system uses 10 speakers and the sixth-gen Camry uses eight, there is a 27% weight reduction. And even though the GreenEdge audio is rated at 120 Watts, like an LED light bulb (their analogy), it has performance in excess of its rating: they’re describing it as having “600 Equivalent Watts.” Less makes more.
• About Okane
The last time we saw Yukihiro Okane was when he was the chief engineer for the 2008 Highlander (autofieldguide.com/articles/2008-toyota-highlander-by-the-numbers-because-you-can-learn-so-much-from-whats-quantified). He is certainly no stranger to Toyota, however, having joined the company in 1981, when he began his career as a powertrain development engineer. By 1995 he was in charge of production planning for the first Lexus RX and Toyota Highlander (including the Highlander Hybrid). In 2003 he was named chief engineer for the RX and GX. Back to the Toyota side of the house in 2004 for the Highlander, then worked on the Camry, too (e.g., he launched the Camry and Camry Hybrid in nine plants in 2006). This was followed by the Highlander assignment where we met him. Then in 2008 he was named chief engineer for the Camry and Camry Hybrid (yes, we’ll get to that).
Okane says that since Camry’s launch in 1983, some 15-million have been sold in more than 100 countries. Rather than being complacent—hey, if that many people like what we’ve done, why push it?—“It made us want to work even harder in creating this all-new sedan.”
In keeping with the Toyota approach of genchi genbutsu—which is about going to where things actually happen so that you have first-hand knowledge and understanding so when you decide to do something, you’re basing it on perceptions more relevant than what a bunch of people in a boardroom think—Okane traveled around the U.S., talking with owners and prospects, dealers and distributors. Not only did he participate in focus groups, he even went to people’s houses. (“Konnichiwa. What do you like about your Camry? And what don’t you like?”)
“What came out of my research was the ‘New Era’ sedan concept. The concept signifies a new era in the midsize sedan, a combination of ‘emotional’ appeal and ‘rational attraction.” (For “Era” they take the e from emotional and the ra from rational.)
The rational part is fairly metric. For example, like any engineering development team, they looked at parts to be used in the vehicle. Okane says that they perform “DRBs”—design review board on failure modes. This is a thorough approach in analyzing the components. For the sixth-gen they looked at approximately 200 parts via DRBs. For the new Camry, they doubled the number. They tripled the number of on-road prototype tests in the U.S.
The emotional part is wholly subjective. The design theme for the car is “Rational Tech-Dynamism.” And what this means in visible sheet metal is something that is simple and strong, clean and crisp. There are highly visible things like a rising character line from front to back that evinces a wedge shape. There are little details like the design of the corners of the front and rear bumpers that helps improve aero (the coefficient of drag for the standard sedan is 0.28 and thanks, in large part, to the use of underbody fairing panels, the Cd for the Hybrid—which we’ll get to—is 0.27).
No one is going to mistake the Camry for being something other than a midsize sedan. But then we have to go back to what Bob Carter says about the objective of this car.
• The Most Remarkable Aspect of the Camry
There are a number of verities in life, and one of them seems to be: When a new car is introduced, it is bigger—substantially—than its predecessor. Maybe it is the Costco mentality.
The 2011 Camry—the sixth generation—has a 109.3-in. wheelbase, is 189.2-in. long, 71.7-in. wide, and 57.9-in. high. The 2012 Camry—the seventh genera-tion—has a 109.3-in. wheelbase, is 189.2-in. long, 71.7-in. wide, and 57.9-in. high.
Why? Okane: “The Camry is the right size for the U.S. market. We didn’t need to expand it. We tried to make more space available in the interior.”
And it is the interior where they’ve made it roomier. “We reduced under-utilized space in the interior to create a more spacious cabin. Areas like seat and door-trim shape was optimized in order to add more lateral space and couple distance,” Okane says. What this is manifest in is things like redesigning the shape for the front seatbacks to provide more knee room for passengers in the back, and even getting an additional 2 in. for the person who has to sit in the rear middle position by redesigning the back side of the center console.
• The Hybrid
There probably isn’t anyone who hasn’t heard of the Toyota Prius. When it comes to the thumbnail illustration for hybrid in the dictionary, they could use the Prius.
Toyota has been offering a Camry Hybrid since model year 2007 (sixth-generation). Chances are, you didn’t know it, just as you did know that there’s a Prius.
But this time it is different. Okane, when asked what he is most proud of in relation to the 2012 Camry, he—and remember that he started his career in powertrain—says that it is the 43 mpg that is being achieved by the Camry Hybrid. That is best-in-class.
To get there, they’re using a hybrid-specific variation of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine used in conventional, or gasoline-powered-only, Camrys. This engine produces 156 hp @ 5,700 rpm, and 156 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm, which means that it is more powerful than its predecessor (147 hp; 138 lb-ft.) This engine uses the Atkinson cycle for combustion. There are no accessory drive belts on the engine (the air conditioning compressor and the water pump are electrically driven). There is a new cooled exhaust recirculation system that improves heat efficiency for better fuel efficiency.
Add in the electrical machine, and the combined horsepower gets to 200.
The Hybrid uses 34 nickel-metal hydride battery modules that are contained in a more compact battery assembly. As a result, the battery pack is moved 5.5 in. forward in the trunk. And the consequence is increased truck space from 10.6-ft3 to 13.1-ft3.
One thing they’re doing to ensure that Hybrids get more attention is to provide two trim levels for the car, the LE and the top-of-the-line XLE.
• The Return
So we circle back to Bob Carter, who is possibly the least bombastic executive in the industry. He acknowledges the troubles that Toyota has experienced. But he is optimistic with the Camry and a whole raft of other new or significantly enhanced products that are coming, including the Yaris, Scion iQ, Prius v, Prius c, Prius Plug-in, FR-S . . .
He is confident that the leadership that Akio Toyoda—who, Carter says, is keenly focused on products—has brought to the company will be mani-festing itself as product development “shifts into overdrive.” They are working to “put more emotion into products;” they are working to provide high levels of fuel efficiency (as exemplified by the numbers cited in the sixth- and seventh-generation Camrys).
“There’s an energy coming back that we really haven’t felt for the last 36 months,” Carter admits.
And he says there is a certainty, he says it in a tone that indicates he believes it, but that he isn’t boasting about it: “Death, taxes . . . and Toyota will come back.”
The 2012 Camry is where that comeback starts.