Toyota seeks better design for Camry, but wants to keep US top spot image

Toyota is challenged by its president, Akio Toyoda, as it needs to heed its insistence on heart-racing design for the next Camry and Prius models without jeopardizing their mass-market appeal.

While next-generation versions of both cars are in the works, Toyota executives haven’t provided many details as getting it wrong risks robbing Camry of its title as the best-selling US car, a title held for 12 consecutive years, and seeing Prius, which sells more than 200,000 units annually in the US, eclipsed by newer hybrid vehicles.

The aim for the next Camry is a “more emotional, more impactful design,” Kevin Hunter, head of Toyota’s US design studio, said in an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week.

“Camry’s taken some hits on styling, but it’s still selling well. But we need to create better design for Camry in the future,” Hunter said.

Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, is pushing an overhaul of vehicles with an emphasis on “waku-doki” design, shorthand for the Japanese phrase for heart-racing qualities. That would break from the current styling of the Camry and Prius, which together accounted for about a third of the Toyota City, Japan-based company’s US sales volume last year.

Because Camry’s customer base, which Toyota estimates is 5 million owners, is so large, there are limits to how far the company can go in changing the design, Kazuo Ohara, head of Toyota’s US sales unit, said.

The emphasis on the next version of the car is enhanced interior packaging and materials and more “emotional” exterior looks, Ohara said, without elaborating on specific details. The company isn’t ready to say when a new Camry or Prius will go on sale, the executives said.

US Camry sales were 408,484 in 2013, topping newer sedans, including Honda s Accord, Nissan’s Altima and Ford’s Fusion, with faster-growing sales. The Accord is the No. 2 car, with 366,678 units sold last year, according to a Honda statement this month.

Via Bloomberg