Toyota Seeks to Extend U.S. Gains With Avalon for Younger Buyers
Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), rebounding in the U.S. after four years of sliding sales, is giving its Avalon sedan a sleeker look to attract younger drivers and help sustain growth of the company’s namesake brand.
The 2013 Avalon, designed in California, engineered in Michigan and built in Kentucky, was created “from beginning to end here in the U.S. specifically for American buyers,” Randy Stephens, chief engineer for the large sedan, told reporters Oct. 24 in Yountville, California. A V-6 engine Avalon and a new hybrid variant go on sale in early December.
“It was time to alter the present course and revitalize Avalon’s rather conservative image to something more vibrant and youthful,” said Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s U.S. design studio in Newport Beach, California. The car got a “leaner” exterior and new grille because “we really needed a bold departure from the current path,” he said.
Toyota expects to increase U.S. sales 30 percent this year, after failing to join the industry’s recovery in 2010 and 2011 because of recalls and natural disasters. Buoyed by expanding sales of Camry sedans, Prius hybrids and Lexus luxury models, Japan’s largest carmaker may sell 2 million vehicles in the U.S. for the first time since 2008.
Deliveries of the Avalon, with a $30,990 base price, should reach 70,000 in 2013, Bill Fay, group vice president of U.S. Toyota sales, said last week in Yountville. That would be the most since 2007 and more than double the 28,925 sold in 2011.
Competing sedans include Ford Motor Co. (F)’s Taurus and Hyundai Motor Co. (005380)’s Genesis and Azera. Their segment may grow 7 percent to about 400,000 vehicles in 2013, said Fay, who is based at Toyota’s U.S. sales unit in Torrance, California.
The gasoline-electric model offers fuel economy of 40 miles (64 kilometers) per gallon in city and highway driving, as well as a combined 200 horsepower from its four-cylinder engine and electric-drive system. The hybrid should account for 20 percent of Avalon sales, Fay said. Prices for the version range from $35,555 to $41,400, excluding destination and handling charges, the company said.
The V-6 models are priced from $30,990 to $39,650. Fuel economy was improved to a combined 25 mpg for the 268-horsepower vehicle, from 23 mpg for the 2012 model. That’s higher than the ratings for the Ford and Hyundai large sedans, according to the Energy Department’s fueleconomy.gov website.
Avalon marks the start of a shift in Toyota-brand models in response to President Akio Toyoda’s desire for edgier styling and a sportier ride and handling, Hunter said.
Toyoda’s reaction on seeing the 2013 Avalon was, “It looks cool. Don’t change a thing,” Hunter said.
The new look and improved fuel efficiency are intended to cut the average Avalon buyer’s age to the mid-50s, from 65 for the current car, Fay said. For the first time, Toyota will promote both V-6 and hybrid versions to livery and car-service operators, he said.
The Toyota City, Japan-based company also plans a marketing campaign targeting black consumers, Fay said.
“One of the interesting things we learned in our consumer research was that African Americans ranked the new Avalon higher than other groups in every category,” he said.
The Avalon’s large front grille is similar to that of Ford’s 2013 Fusion sedan, which also goes on sale in late 2012.
“Theirs is a bit higher mounted,” Hunter said of the Ford model. “Ours was put in down low. That way, we can create a more aggressive image, a more sporty image.”
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