Toyota debuts new Camry amid tough competition

Associated Press
The 2012 Toyota Camry is unveiled during a news conference in Dearborn, Mich., Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. While it promises new technology and other upgrades, America's best-selling car faces a fight to stay on top with its first redesign of the Camry in five years (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Toyota plans to unveil its first redesign of the Camry in five years on Tuesday. While it promises new technology and other upgrades, America's best-selling car faces a fight to stay on top.

Toyota has released few details about the new car, which will be shown at simultaneous events in California, Michigan and at the Georgetown, Ky., plant where the Camry is made. The Camry will carry an entertainment system called Entune, which lets drivers connect to mobile applications such as Pandora.

Analysts say competition from rivals has never been stronger. The Hyundai Sonata has been praised for its sharp styling, fuel economy and price tag — it starts at $500 less than the 2011 Camry — while General Motors will soon release a redesigned Chevrolet Malibu. The Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord are also closing in on Camry's lead.

"The Camry is not a slam-dunk by itself anymore," said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for car pricing site TrueCar.com.

Through July of this year, Toyota has sold 174,485 Camrys, down 8 percent from the same period in 2010. That's still 20,000 more than its closest rival, the Nissan Altima, even with supply shortages this spring and summer caused by the earthquake in Japan.

Toyota introduced the Camry in the U.S. in 1983 to compete with the Honda Accord. It quickly became a big seller because of its reputation for reliability and good gas mileage. The Camry outsold the Ford Taurus in 1997. It has been the best-selling car in America ever since, except for 2001, when it was outsold by the Accord.

Even the safety recalls of 2010 — in which Toyota recalled hundreds of thousands of Camrys because of sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats — didn't knock it down from No. 1. But the car's sales fell 8 percent that year, while sales of the Hyundai Sonata rose 64 percent.

Toprak said the new Camry will satisfy current owners who want to trade in their cars. But it could have a tough time attracting new customers. Toprak said the Camry and the Accord have lost sales to competitors in part because they stuck with bland styling while other automakers took chances with their designs.

"They are safe vehicles that have nothing fundamentally wrong with them, but they don't promote excitement," he said. "That is one of those elements you need to attract younger buyers."

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