Toyota Plans Debut for Refreshed Camry to Defend U.S. Crown

Toyota Motor Corp., whose Camry sedan has been the top-selling U.S. car for the last 12 years, will debut a refreshed model of the car next month as Ford Motor Co. and Japanese rivals gain on the perennial leader.

Toyota will show an updated Camry at the New York International Auto Show on April 16, Curt McAllister, a spokesman for the Toyota City, Japan-based company, said via e-mail. The refreshed car “will challenge conventional expectations of a mid-cycle model change,” he said.

The world’s largest automaker, which has been selling the current generation Camry since late 2011, typically overhauls the model every five years without making significant changes in between. President Akio Toyoda has emphasized more aggressive styling as the Camry faces stiffer tests from mid-size cars including Ford’s Fusion, Honda Motor Co.’s Accord and Nissan Motor Co.’s Altima.

“Investing in upgrades is certainly the better way to go, rather than increasing incentives to maintain U.S. sales,” Jack Nerad, an auto analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said by telephone. Keeping the Camry the top-selling car in the market “has become a matter of esprit de corps” for Toyota, he said.

Toyota gave hints earlier this year that an updated Camry was in the works. Kevin Hunter, the head of the automaker’s U.S. design studio, said Toyota needed “to create better design for Camry in the future” in an interview at the North American International Auto Show in January.

The Camry trailed Altima in U.S. sales through the first two months of this year and ceded market share to the Fusion and Accord in 2013.

Sales Slump

Camry’s U.S. sales fell 17 percent in the year’s first two months and trailed Altima by 1,034 deliveries, according to researcher Autodata Corp. Sales of the Camry last year rose 0.9 percent as the Fusion surged 22 percent, the Accord gained 10 percent and Altima advanced 5.9 percent.

Toyota has forecast that Camry will maintain its U.S. car sales crown for a 13th straight year, exceeding 400,000 deliveries in 2014.

Toyota fell 0.1 percent to 5,723 yen at 10:11 a.m. in Tokyo trading, compared with the 0.5 percent advance by the benchmark Topix Index. The stock has lost 11 percent this year.

By making substantial changes to the Camry before a full redesign, Toyota would be mimicking Honda, which has revamped its Civic compact in each of the last two model years.

Camry, Civic

“Companies like Toyota and Honda that are doing such significant volume with models like Camry or Civic, they have more volume to amortize changes they make to the models,” said Nerad, who’s based in Irvine, California.

Magazines such as Consumer Reports and Car and Driver have been critical of the Camry for its staid design. Consumer Reports called the current generation Camry’s styling “conservative” and said it was “not that exciting to drive” in a December 2011 review. When Car and Driver ranked the five most “normcore” vehicles in a blog post on its website this month, it listed five trim levels of the Camry.

Toyoda, 57, has pushed an overhaul at the company founded by his grandfather by stressing “waku-doki” design, a Japanese phrase that translates to heart-racing qualities. There are limits to how far the company can go in changing Camry’s design because of its vast customer base of about 5 million owners, Kazuo Ohara, head of Toyota’s U.S. sales unit, said in January.

“I would not go so far as saying we could be adventurous, but at least more aggressive,” he said in an interview at the Detroit auto show. With the current Camry, “we were probably a little bit too conservative.”

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