---- — Writing about the Toyota Camry makes me feel like a Boston sports reporter writing about Tom Brady. The Patriots quarterback has displayed his abilities and demonstrated his value for so long now that, well, what more can you say about him?
The Toyota Camry has remained the best-selling car in America for 12 straight years. Looking at the stats coming in for this year, it appears certain that Camry will retain its title for a 13th consecutive year when 2013 closes in a couple of months.
What makes the feat more remarkable is that the Camry plays in the toughest, most competitive division of the auto market. At least Tom Brady gets a breather against the teams he faces most often, the lackluster Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, which vie in the American Football Conference East against the Patriots. By contrast, the Toyota Camry goes head-to-head against mid-size sedans that occupy the hottest segment of the passenger car trade.
So, not only has the Camry retained top popularity among automobiles, but it has done it while competing against autos that are themselves immensely popular.
What’s more, the Camry is routing them. Across the United States, Toyota has sold 319,000 Camrys so far this year. That’s 37,000 more than its closest challenger, the Honda Accord, which stood at 282,000 in sales through September. Next in line, the Ford Taurus, scored 226,000 through the first nine months, while the Chevrolet Malibu and Hyundai Sonata are close to tied for a distant, fourth-place spot, at about 155,000 – fewer than half the Camrys sold so far this year.
What’s the secret to such consistent success?
“There’s no black magic to it,” said Bob Marcoux, general sales manager of Rockingham Toyota Scion, which is one half of Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda in Salem, N.H. “People have come to trust the name. They know they can count on the Camry for its reliability, safety, comfort, longevity. For all the basics.”
Longevity is a basic that Camry owners find particularly appealing, Marcoux stated.
“Camrys just keep going, with very, very low maintenance cost,” he said. “We have people who come in for service with Camrys that have as much as 280,000 miles on them, and all they need is an oil change.”
The car’s reputation for long life translates to greater demand by used-car shoppers, who pay higher prices for a model they figure has many more miles left to travel. As a result, Camrys typically command higher trade-in values – more money back to the original owner, Marcoux explained.
“People know that when they’re ready for a new car in four or five years, with a Camry they’ll have a car with more value to put against their next one,” he said.
“That’s created a very loyal owner base,” said the sales manager.
Toyota remade the Camry for 2012, modernizing and renewing a model it first produced in 1983, or 30 years ago. This current, seventh-generation Camry contains features and characteristics meant to maintain its popularity.
A primary one is its sleek, contemporary style, noted Marcoux. A roundly streamlined front end and curved, tubular flanks give the current model a dynamic aspect. It appears powerfully stable due to flared side sills and its widened, lower stance compared to the previous version.
Toyota also increased the interior space of the seventh-generation Camry. It built in more noise reduction. It tuned driving dynamics for a crisper, more responsive ride. Updated engines in the new Camry aim to provide both economy and assurred performance.
The four-cylinder base engine produces 178 horsepower while it returns an appealing, 25 mile-per-gallon fuel-economy rating in city driving, and 35 mpg on the highway. A V6 engine available in Camry’s upper levels, at 268 horsepower, rates 21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. Both come with six-speed automatic transmissions.
Toyota also sells a hybrid version of Camry, combining gasoline and electric power to parse fuel at a rate of 43 mpg city and 39 mpg highway, according to government fuel-use figures.
The evolution of Camry includes measures to make the model more broadly appealing, Marcoux stated. For example, the model’s SE grade – for Sport Edition – bundles in equipment to give it youth appeal. That includes special suspension parts and steering gear tuned for greater agility, enabling more aggressive and athletic maneuvers in the SE version.
Due to such efforts, the Camry today enjoys a wide following from across the driving spectrum, said Marcoux.
“It now caters to people starting at age 21 and up,” he said. “The SE model appeals to the younger generation. It’s also a solid family sedan. It’s a good commuter car because it’s comfortable, it’s quiet and it’s great on gas.”
But Toyota doesn’t wait for big generational changes to refine Camry in ways that may enhance its popularity and best-seller status. According to Marcoux, that happens constantly, especially at the Georgetown, Ky., factory where Toyota builds the car. There the company practices its guiding principle, called kaizen in Japanese. The word translates to English as “continuous slow improvement.” In practice it means that, when a worker spots a problem with the model, the company stops production and makes a fix. When a worker comes up with an improvement, Toyota makes the enhancement.
Such ongoing, inch-by-inch improvements should keep all the basics well covered, which could keep people coming back to the Toyota Camry for who knows how many years to come.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2014 Toyota Camry Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive midsize sedan Price range: $23,095 to $31,325 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 2 years/25,000 miles free scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance Base engine: 2.5-liter I4 Power: 178 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 170 lb.-ft. torque at 4,100 rpm Transmission: six-speed automatic Fuel economy: 25 mpg city; 35 mpg highway (with AWD) Wheelbase: 109 inches Length: 189 inches Width: 72 inches Height: 58 inches Weight: 3,190 pounds Fuel capacity: 17.0 gallons Turning circle: 36.7 feet