Toyota debuts new Camry amid tough competition

Some 2012 Toyota Camry models, including the Hybrid LE, will have lower prices. New models will go on sale in December.

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Some 2012 Toyota Camry models, including the Hybrid LE, will have lower prices. New models will go on sale in December.

DEARBORN, Mich. — The Toyota Camry has been the bestselling car in America for nearly 15 years, its reputation for reliability keeping it on top even when the carmaker was hurt by major safety recalls.

Toyota has sold more than 15 million Camrys worldwide since it introduced the car in 1983 to compete with the Honda Accord.

But its lead has shrunk dramatically. Feeling the pressure, Toyota unveiled the 2012 Camry on Tuesday, its first redesign of the sedan in five years. While Toyota hopes to create buzz by lowering the Camry's price, improving its fuel economy and adding features, it may not be enough to keep the Camry No. 1 in the increasingly competitive market for midsize sedans.

"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.

Toyota showed off the new Camry on the Web and at events in California and elsewhere. It has given the car a sharper, more pointed hood, a quieter and roomier interior and more trunk space. It's also offering Entune, a system that lets drivers access Internet services like Pandora from their mobile phones using voice commands or an in-dash touch screen.

But critics say that the styling is bland compared to those from edgier rivals like Nissan, Hyundai and Kia, and that Toyota saved money by using cheaper interior materials.

"There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it, but is that good enough nowadays? No, it's not," Toprak said.

The new Camry is due to arrive at dealerships in early October. A basic version will cost just under $22,000.

At that starting price, the Camry will cost a little more than some of its competitors, such as the $19,200 Kia Optima. But Carter says the car includes a lot for the price, including the most air bags — 10 — in its class.

Toyota has also tweaked the Camry's engines to get better fuel economy. The four-cylinder engine, which makes up the bulk of Camry's sales, will get 35 mpg on the highway, up from 32 in the 2011 Camry. The hybrid version will get a combined 41 mpg in city and highway driving. Those numbers make it one of the most fuel-efficient sedans in its class.

But it remains to be seen whether Toyota can draw back buyers who started shopping other brands after Toyota was hit by huge recalls that involved sticky accelerators and floor mats that trapped gas pedals.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda visited the Georgetown, Ky., plant Tuesday where the Camry is made, underscoring the car's importance.

.Fast facts

Bottom-line break

The starting prices of the various 2012 Camry models compared with the starting prices for the equivalent 2011 versions:

Basic model:

$21,955, $710 more

Top-of-the-line version: $24,725, $2,000 less

Hybrid: $25,900, $1,150 less

Toyota debuts new Camry amid tough competition 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 11:35pm]

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