TNZ’s Camry push an assault with battery

Expect less conservatism and more zap with the new Camry, unveiled in Detroit and set to show locally before the end of 2017.


SWITCHOVER to the new generation Camry, probably at the end of this year, will deliver even more emphasis on the model’s hybrid drivetrain, in acknowledgement that environmental issues are coming to the fore.

This from Toyota New Zealand’s new product spokesman in the wake the new model’s global reveal, at the Detroit motor show.

While new car promises new styling with greater showroom appeal, a dynamic new platform and a more engaging drive - and also now provisions, in every NZ-bound form, with a pre-collision safety system that incorporates automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, radar cruise control and pedestrian detection - it nonetheless maintains consistency in respect to the engine choices, with no plug-in electric edition yet being discussed.

For now at least Toyota will continue to push forward with its well-established nickel hydride Hybrid Synergy Drive soft hybrid setup, which allows for an electric motor to assist the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine rather than take over from it for prolonged driving.

Though far more popular here than more electric-focussed drivetrains, Toyota’s hybrid system is too fossil fuel-reliant to be considered as an electric drivetrain, so doesn’t figure in Government’s EV strategy.

Toyota Motor Corporation has yet to provide technical details, including outputs and economy, for the Camry’s updated powertrain, but it says it does offer significant improvement over the current car’s drivetrain, being not only more powerful but also smoother and quieter. It offers three drive modes (normal, eco and power) as well as paddle shifts.

Even though EVs and PHEVs are now assuming greater adulation than hybrids, TNZ also believes its Hybrid Synergy Drive system will nonetheless continue to prove itself as a cost-effective and economical choice that it also worthy of meeting the new stage of environmental targets it expects out of Government.

Spencer Morris, general manager of product, suggests the emergent national focus on Green issues will flavour how the new model is sold here.

While all three announced engines are also in line for NZ introduction – the others being an orthodox 2.5-litre four-cylinder and a 3.5-litre V6, both in marriage with an eight-speed paddleshift automatic – it is probable the main focus will be the hybrid.

The battery-fed system is already strongly favoured by the fleet component, particularly taxi operators, that accounts for the majority of current Camry sale, but there’s more to it than that, Morris says.

“It doesn’t mean we are abandoning conventional petrol altogether ... and we haven’t decided whether to abandon the V6, though the badging is up for review ... (but) we obviously see that (hybrid) as the future.

“But the point about the hybrids is that they are getting better with every generation and this will be another step forward.

“New Zealand has got some targets to meet in respect to reduced CO2 emissions and, whilst the Government hasn’t come out and said what they are yet, we have to have an eye to the future in terms of our model lineup and also play our part in meeting those reduced emissions.

“If they are going to do something about (emissions) whether by regulation or maybe through the price of petrol, then that will impact on popular choice.

“That’s why we are thinking about increasing the hybrid penetration in our lineup.”

Whether Toyota Japan is considering a plug-in electric version of the Camry is not known. At the moment the only PHEV car TNZ can offer is a version of the previous-generation Prius, which delivers as a used import product.

“If there is one (a PHEV Camry) under development I don’t know about it,” Morris said.

TNZ is resigned to accepting Government’s thinking that its hybrid drivetrain is not electric enough to be considered an EV, though the way Morris sees it, a PHEV is “really just a hybrid with a better battery.”

Meantime, even though Camry is being impacted by the diminishing consumer interest in sedans – which now account, in large form, for less than five percent of new car sales – to the point where it did not feature in the 2016 top 15 new passenger vehicles, there is no thought to losing it locally.

“We cannot deny that the segment has shrunk in size but it is still important to us. There are still customers out there that want it.”

Morris believes there is chance of some resurgence when the new, generation eight, car lands. The Detroit show revealed two distinct guises, both representing a big swing away from the traditionally staid form, with the most sporting version taking cues from sister marque Lexus.

It’s the first sedan on new Toyota New Generation Architecture platform. The key benefits of TNGA are improved dynamics, handling and ride comfort resultant from a lower centre of gravity, higher torsional rigidity and fully independent rear suspension.

TNZ is not yet ready to discuss specification and pricing and cannot yet signal exactly when the car will arrive, though with production out of Japan – the likely local market sourcing – not starting until the third quarter, it would seem a fair bet to assume a November or December entry.

That timing also synchs with the curtailment of production of the current car out of Melbourne, an action that ends all car assembly in Australia. While Toyota won’t say exactly when the Altona plant will shut down, it has always signalled intent to remain going until after Holden shutters up in October. Yesterday it said the plant would operate into the fourth quarter, however regardless TNZ expectation is that its supply of Australian-made Camrys will be exhausted before the end of this year, Morris indicates.

Even though Camry is predominantly fleet-favoured, that won’t dilute the new car’s local market specification – we seem set to see everything that has been shown in America, though only the high-end editions will come with the interior touches of a classy flat glass panel dominating the centre console, a large heads-ups displays and digital dash. Likewise, expect the flagship alone to have leather, the show cars’ alluring 19-inch rims and quad exhausts.

Luggage space has gained 10 litres for petrol models and 30 litres for the Hybrid the hybrid battery now placed under the rear seat. Another plus is that it at last ditches the awkward an archaic foot-operated parking brake pedal for an electronic park brake.