DEARBORN, MICH. (Aug. 24, 3:10 p.m. ET) — With hybrid vehicles gaining interest and momentum in the North American auto market, Toyota Motor Corp. wants to make sure its new Camry sedan attracts those looking for traditional rides as well as eco-conscious buyers.
Camry is Toyota's best-selling car in North America, and has held the top spot for all car sales in the U.S. for 13 of the last 14 years. With a new version hitting the marketplace late this year, Toyota's top leaders stressed the importance of the brand during an Aug. 23 news conference linked by satellite feeds to simultaneously introduce the car in Dearborn, New York, Los Angeles and Georgetown, Ky., where the first 2012 model year Camrys are coming off the line.
The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker noted many of the Camry's styling features, which include exterior rocker panel moldings and redesigned interior trim to give the car a bigger feel.
But the space the company most focused on for the two hybrid versions of the Camry are hidden beneath the trunk lid.
“One of the biggest complaints we had with the [previous] hybrid model was the trunk space,” said Toyota spokesman Gregg Benkendorfer.
Toyota places the hybrid's batteries in the rear of the car, which cuts into available storage space. The 2011 hybrid had 10.6 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk, compared with 14.5 in the standard model.
For 2012, Toyota engineers were able to decrease the size of the batteries, thanks to improved efficiency, but also looked at new ways to house the battery pack and give it all a much more streamlined look. The trunk area — produced with injection molded and thermoformed parts — has rounded corners and gentle curves to clear a few inches here and a few inches there as engineers took a look at the whole car for the best space, he said.
Check out a video interview with Benkendorfer.
The company also reconfigured the battery pack's air cooling system to free up space behind the passenger seat.
A small “pass through” opening in the rear seat provides space for long items such as skis, increasing the usability of the car even more, Benkendorfer noted.
In all, the company managed to find another 2.5 cubic feet of space in the trunk, enough for “one more golf bag” officials said. The hybrid cargo area is still smaller than the standard Camry, but it is less noticeable except in a side-by-side comparison.
That will be important for a firm banking on increased hybrid sales for its popular sedan. The company expects that up to 11 percent of all Camry sales will be hybrids, or more than 35,000 vehicles annually. That is less than the sales of Toyota's more famous hybrid, the Prius — which sold nearly 141,000 cars in the U.S. in 2010 — but still an important move forward for car buyers who want a more “mainstream” look, Benkendorfer said.