The seven-generation, 2012 Camry
lineup includes the LE, SE, XLE, and,
front and center, the 43-mpg Hybrid.
(There is also a base L trim, not shown).
Chief engineer Yukihiro Okane and the Camry SE. Okane has been with Toyota Motor
Corp. since 1981. The SE has both styling (e.g., a different grilles, rocker moldings, trunk
spoiler) and mechanical (e.g. exclusive steering knuckles and lower arms; specifically
tuned springs; larger, solid, rear stabilizer bar; suspension and steering tuning) differences
from the other vehicles in the lineup.
While the vehicle maintains the same exterior dimensions, efforts were made to increase
the interior space, especially in the back seat. Note, for example, how the backs of the
front seats are concave, thereby providing additional knee room for those behind them.
Bob Carter, vice president and generalÂ manager of Toyota Motor Sales, standsÂ in front of a group of people who willÂ have less influence than they probablyÂ imagine they do, automotive writersÂ from those name-brand buff books withÂ circulation in the millions to bloggersÂ who may toil in basements. TheyâllÂ have less influence in this case inÂ particular for a simple reason: BecauseÂ Carterâwho had, with his colleaguesÂ in the Toyota organization, undergoneÂ more than two years of challenge,Â from the Great Recession to allegedÂ quality/safety problems that led to aÂ thoroughgoing reassessment of how theÂ Toyota organization does what it doesÂ and where it does it to the JapaneseÂ earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster,Â which had an effect on the availabilityÂ of products in markets around theÂ world, including the U.S., which CarterÂ is responsible forâis introducing theÂ seventh-generation Camry.
And while some of them may sniff,Â know this: As Carter enumerates: âItâsÂ been 28 years since Camry first wentÂ on sale, and 25 years since ToyotaÂ broke ground for the GeorgetownÂ [Kentucky] plant . . . It has been theÂ best-selling car in America nine yearsÂ running and 13 of the past 14 years.Â The current generation car has been No.Â 1 every year since it was introduced.Â And Georgetown is now the largestÂ automotive plant in North America. ItÂ has built nearly nine million vehicles,Â 6.5 million of them are Camrys . . . Along the way, Georgetown has earned moreÂ J. D. Power awards for quality than anyÂ other plant in North America. Thatâs oneÂ of the big reasons more than 90 percentÂ of all Camrys built during the past 15Â years are still on the road today.â
So one can only think that given thisÂ track record, when the Camry goesÂ on sale, and as the U.S. auto marketÂ continues to improve, that the ~360,000Â annual production of midsize sedansâÂ built both at Georgetown as well as atÂ the Toyota/Subaru facility in Lafayette,Â Indianaâwill pretty much be sold,Â regardless of what the people in thatÂ room think.Â
Wait a minute. Midsize sedan? Didnât theÂ people at Toyota get the memo? TheÂ market thatâs now hot is compact cars,Â the vehicles that get higher miles perÂ gallon, a crucial consideration now thatÂ gas prices are on their inexorable climb,Â even though there may be some hysteresisÂ in its pattern. But here Carter thinksÂ that there is something that Camry hasÂ that will make it all the more appealingÂ (in what Carter describes as âindustryâsÂ most competitive segmentâ) to customersÂ (and he points out that aboutÂ half of all Camry owners buy anotherÂ Camry, and with more than 6.8-millionÂ Camrys on the road right now, that is aÂ robust base): miles per gallon.Â
As in: âIf youâre looking for fuelÂ economy, the 4-cylinder provides aÂ best-in-class 35 mpg on the highway.Â Speaking of fuel economy, at 200Â horsepower and 43 miles per gallon, theÂ hybrid is simply in a class of its own.âÂ And in addition to the 2.5-liter, 178-hpÂ four, there is a 3.5-liter, 268-hp V6Â that provides an estimated 21 city/30Â highway mpg, which is said to beÂ the best for any current V6-poweredÂ midsize. So Carter says that when theyÂ are able to provide mpgs like that, whatâsÂ the point of buying a smaller car?Â
Carter knows that the people in the roomÂ are generally more enthusiastic aboutÂ products that arenât âappliance-likeâ asÂ Camrys are sometimes described by themÂ (and competitors) as being. While theÂ Camry may not stir the soulâalthoughÂ there is a distinctly different SE trimÂ package that Carter thinks will be ofÂ interest to some guys in their 40s andÂ 50sâhe knows what the customersÂ are looking for, and he cites a list ofÂ questions that need to be consideredÂ vis-Ã -vis this car: âIs it safe? Is it reliableÂ and economical? Does it offer goodÂ value and low ownership cost? Is itÂ comfortable for me and my passengers,Â especially in the back seat? Does it fit meÂ and my lifestyle? Does it make me feelÂ good about being eco-friendly? Does itÂ make my life easier and more fun?âÂ
So maybe Carter doesnât include âDoesÂ it have a low 0 to 60 time? Does itÂ carve through the corners like a laser inÂ a block of ice? Will it be a magnet forÂ those of the opposite sex who resembleÂ the inevitably attractive characters in aÂ beer commercial?âÂ
But thatâs not the point. This is theÂ seventh-gen Camry. The car that hasÂ become synonymous with Quality,Â Durability and Reliability.Â
Maybe it doesnât have the âsoulâ thatÂ the people in the room are seeking likeÂ mystics. But it also doesnât make the guyÂ at the repair shop rich on the customerâsÂ hard-earned money. It doesnât leave oneÂ wondering how theyâre going to get toÂ work in the morning because it wonâtÂ start or the kids to baseball practiceÂ or the orthodontist (who is probablyÂ getting rich on the customerâs hardearnedÂ money).Â
But then you look at the stats and youÂ realize that (1) Toyota is serious aboutÂ continuing the run thatâs itâs beenÂ making in sales, all of the kicks andÂ buffets, deserved and undeserved, manmadeÂ and natural notwithstanding, andÂ (2) it hasnât forgotten why people buyÂ cars like the Camry.Â
Like the Camry, but not just as manyÂ as them.
Â â¢ Whatâs Old About the New Camry?
The appropriate term is âcarryover.âÂ And in the case of the 20102 Camry,Â the carryover takes the form of theÂ 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, 178-hp, fourcylinderÂ engine. It isnât all that âold,âÂ as it was introduced in model year â10.Â It provides an estimated 25/35/28 mpgÂ (city/highway/combined) in the newÂ model. The numbers for the previousÂ model are 22/32/26 mpg. Weâll get toÂ why thatâs the case.
The other carryover is the otherÂ engine, a 3.5-liter, DOHC, 24-valve,Â 268-hp, six-cylinder. There were someÂ modifications made to this engine, likeÂ the use of a dual-stage fiber-reinforced,Â laser-welded plastic intake manifold.Â The fuel efficiency numbers for thisÂ engine are 21/30/25 mpg. The engine inÂ the six-gen Camry: 20/29/23 mpg.Â
Both engines are mated to six-speedÂ automatics. The nomenclature used byÂ Toyota to modify âtransmissionâ in theÂ cases of each of the transmissions (oneÂ for the four and one for the six): âSuperÂ Electronically Controlled.â They do, helpÂ improve fuel efficiency.Â
But as for anything else thatâs carriedÂ over from the previous generationÂ Camry to this one: Nothing.Â
â¢ The Secret Sauce
Simply stated: the secret sauce forÂ achieving improved fuel efficiency forÂ the 2012 Camry is less sauce.Â
Or said another way: the new Camry isÂ lighter than the old.Â
That is, chief engineer Yukihiro OkaneÂ and his team worked to take weightÂ out of the vehicle. With results like theÂ chart here shows.
And it is not like they left stuff out ofÂ the car. For example, they even uppedÂ the number of airbags to 10. WhereasÂ the sixth-gen has driver and frontÂ passenger front airbags, driver and frontÂ passenger seat- ounted side airbags,Â front and rear side curtain airbags,Â and a driverâs knee airbag, in the newÂ car there are a knee airbag for theÂ front passenger and rear-seat outboardÂ passenger side-impact airbags.
And they added less-visible things,Â too, like 56 more welds to make it aÂ more solid structure. (In case youâreÂ wondering, there are 28 more per side,Â and applied at the rear door frame,Â front door frame at the B-pillar rocker,Â front door frame at the A-pillar, lowerÂ rear frame member, and underbody. ForÂ greater specificity youâll have to get yourÂ hands on a body-in-white. Good luck.)
What they left out was mass. AndÂ Okane says the major way they did thisÂ was through the extensive deploymentÂ of high-strength and ultra-high-strengthÂ steels. Simply: stronger steelÂ means that there is no compromiseÂ in strength or safety, just the needÂ for less of it than more-conventionalÂ steels. (And while noting the safetyÂ aspect: letâs face itâif there is any autoÂ company on Earth that is exceedinglyÂ serious about safety given the wayÂ that its reputation suffered through theÂ Period of Unsubstantiated Safety Issues,Â it is Toyota, so theyâve taken measuresÂ like reinforcing things, designingÂ collision energy absorption paths, usingÂ box-shaped pillar structures, puttingÂ overlapping box and gusset structuresÂ in the rear door . . .) There is more 440Â MPa steel used in this structure than theÂ last, as well as the introduction of 590Â and 980 MPa steels (in applications likeÂ the front- and center-pillar reinforcements,Â and the rockers). They alsoÂ increased the use of laser welding on theÂ vehicle, which helps increase structuralÂ strength while reducing weight.
And there are other areas where thereÂ is weight taken out and performanceÂ enhanced. For example, an availableÂ audio package uses JBL (harman.com/automotive) GreenEdge Technology.Â The objective in developing this systemÂ was to improve sound performanceÂ (e.g., using a higher sound pressure levelÂ system means lifelike dynamicsÂ and lower transient distortion) and toÂ reduce energy use (up to 58% powerÂ savings). Even though this systemÂ uses 10 speakers and the sixth-genÂ Camry uses eight, there is a 27%Â weight reduction. And even though theÂ GreenEdge audio is rated at 120 Watts,Â like an LED light bulb (their analogy),Â it has performance in excess of itsÂ rating: theyâre describing it as havingÂ â600 Equivalent Watts.â Less makesÂ more.
â¢ 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, weâll get to that).
Okane says that since Camryâs launch in 1983, some 15-million have been sold in more than 100 countries. Rather than being complacentâhey, if that many people like what weâve done, why push it?ââIt made us want to work even harder in creating this all-new sedan.â
In keeping with the Toyota approach of genchi genbutsuâwhich is about going to where things actually happen so that you have first-hand knowledge and understanding so when you decide to do something, youâre basing it on perceptions more relevant than what a bunch of people in a boardroom thinkâOkane 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 peopleâs houses. (âKonnichiwa. What do you like about your Camry? And what donât you like?â)
âWhat came out of my research was the âNew Eraâ sedan concept. The concept signifies a new era in the midsize sedan, a combination of âemotionalâ appeal and ârational attraction.â (For âEraâ 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 âDRBsââdesign 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 âRational Tech-Dynamism.â 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 Hybridâwhich weâll get toâis 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.
â¢ 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 biggerâsubstantiallyâthan its predecessor. Maybe it is the Costco mentality.
The 2011 Camryâthe sixth generationâhas a 109.3-in. wheelbase, is 189.2-in. long, 71.7-in. wide, and 57.9-in. high. The 2012 Camryâthe seventh genera-tionâhas a 109.3-in. wheelbase, is 189.2-in. long, 71.7-in. wide, and 57.9-in. high.
Why? Okane: âThe Camry is the right size for the U.S. market. We didnât need to expand it. We tried to make more space available in the interior.â
And it is the interior where theyâve made it roomier. âWe 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,â 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.
â¢ The Hybrid
There probably isnât anyone who hasnât 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 didnât know it, just as you did know that thereâs a Prius.
But this time it is different. Okane, when asked what he is most proud of in relation to the 2012 Camry, heâand remember that he started his career in powertrainâsays that it is the 43 mpg that is being achieved by the Camry Hybrid. That is best-in-class.
To get there, theyâre 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 theyâre 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.
â¢ 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 Toyodaâwho, Carter says, is keenly focused on productsâhas brought to the company will be mani-festing itself as product development âshifts into overdrive.â They are working to âput more emotion into products;â they are working to provide high levels of fuel efficiency (as exemplified by the numbers cited in the sixth- and seventh-generation Camrys).
âThereâs an energy coming back that we really havenât felt for the last 36 months,â Carter admits.
And he says there is a certainty, he says it in a tone that indicates he believes it, but that he isnât boasting about it: âDeath, taxesâ.â.â.âand Toyota will come back.â
The 2012 Camry is where that comeback starts.