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First look: Move over Avalon, it’s Aurion!

Aurion Express: Avalon replacement is based on the Camry platform.

Toyota unveils its first serious Commodore rival in the Avalon-replacing Aurion

8 Feb 2006

WE SAW the US-market Avalon debut at last year’s Detroit motor show. We’ve endured since Sunday the teaser TV ads proclaiming: "For too long, big Aussie sixes have all been going the same old way".

And now Toyota’s first bona-fide Commodore and Falcon fighter has been laid bare at today’s Melbourne International Motor Show opening – where Toyota also christened it the Aurion.

Aurion took pride of place on the Toyota stand in Melbourne, where Australia’s most popular brand also presented an Aurion Sportivo concept and signalled its intention to target Holden Special Vehicles and Ford Performance Vehicles with a sneak peek at the profile of its supercharged Sports Conversion-tweaked version scheduled to appear in 2007.

While the replacement for Toyota’s unsuccessful Avalon large sedan, which ceased production last June, breaks cover a full nine months before its Australian release in October, there was no sign of Toyota’s all-new Camry sedan, which debuted in Detroit last month and will replace the current Camry in July – just a month or so before Holden’s new VE Commodore goes on sale.

Unlike the next-generation 042L Camry, Toyota Australia had significant input into Aurion’s styling and, with help from other Toyota design studios, was responsible for creating the car’s unique new sheetmetal design that rides on the same platform (and wheelbase) as the new Camry – not the much larger US Avalon’s.

Still, Toyota Australia executive director of sales and marketing David Buttner said Aurion’s local design work – and its greater styling and specification differentiation from Camry this time round – would be enough to make Toyota’s new large six-cylinder sedan more successful than its predecessor.

"Fundamentally, (Aurion) is specifically designed to suit our market. The styling is very different – much more European – so we think it will be much more appealing to the market," he told GoAuto.

"The Avalon itself had a great reputation in terms of its performance, but the styling didn’t really have a huge impact in the marketplace. It was a great-performing car, but it just didn’t appeal to the public from a design point of view.

"A lot of people are concerned about the declining six-cylinder market and we’re not blind to that, but at the same time we recognise the offerings in that marketplace are now getting into their last years.

"We’ll have the Avalon replacement, there will be a new Commodore this year and a new Falcon next year.

"So we have an opportunity to revitalise that market. I don’t think we’ll have a full recovery in the large-six this year because the product’s not there for the full year, but I think the last quarter will be strong and then next year we’ll see some recovery in that segment." Mr Buttner said Aurion’s Melbourne reveal, which was accompanied by a live webcast, aimed to stimulate interest and enquiry from potential customers well ahead of the new model’s launch – and to postpone purchases of rival models.

"The reason for showing it early is that because Avalon’s off the market and because Camry six will finish, we want private buyers and fleet buyers to be aware of what’s coming," he said.

8 center image Left: Aurion Sportivo concept (below) and the S-Con version dubbed Future Performance Concept (above). "If they’re making purchase decisions, we want them to at least know what’s coming, rather than just leave them blind. Alerting them to the fact there’s a new large six coming will stimulate interest and, hopefully, enquiry." Some 70 per cent of Aurion’s sold are expected to go to fleets – more than the new Camry at 50 per cent.

Codenamed 323L, Aurion will be powered exclusively by a 3.5-litre DOHC V6 that, according to Mr Butter, will deliver in excess of 190kW, giving it the upper hand on Ford’s BF Falcon and, possibly, Holden’s VE Commodore.

"We’ll be 190-plus," he said. "That’s all we’re saying at this stage, because that’s a pretty critical issue in that large-six market and it’s a very competitive area." The US Avalon’s Lexus-sourced, VVT-i-equipped 3.5-litre V6 produces 200kW and 388Nm, and is paired with a five-speed automatic.

However, Aurion is expected to feature a six-speed auto, along with many of the US Avalon’s standard features, including ABS brakes (with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist), twin front, side and knee airbags, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats, a nine-speaker CD sound system and backlit instruments.

Upstream US Avalons also feature stability control, curtain airbags, leather trim, HID headlights, LED puddle lights and reclining rear seats.

Toyota hopes to sell at least 20,000 examples of the Aurion annually – less than Avalon’s original June 2000 launch forecast of 24,000 sales, which it failed to achieve by more than half.

"I’m not going to comment on what level it’s profitable at, but we believe to be competitive and to have a good presence in the marketplace we’d need to be selling at least 20,000," said Mr Buttner, who added that Aurion exports to some Asian nations and its largest current export destination, the Middle East, would have little impact on those of the new, four-cylinder-only Camry.

"The bulk of current Camry exports are four-cylinder. The Middle East is our biggest market and they’re all fours. I think the six-cylinder export mix is about eight per cent," he said.

The appearance of both a mainstream and Sportivo model variant in Melbourne indicates Aurion’s line-up will closely reflect that of the current Camry, while the semi-reveal of the higher-performance S-Con version – unveiled as a "Future Performance Concept" – will be developed by Toyota’s product management division.

The latter follows the supercharged Camry TS-01 concept’s debut at Melbourne last year and will feature a supercharged 3.5-litre quad-cam VVT-i V6 engine.

"We still believe there’s room for a Sportivo, because Sportivo’s been very successful for us. We think it’s brought a lot of people to the brand that wouldn’t have bought something before so therefore there’s no reason we wouldn’t continue that strategy with the new large six.

"Don’t forget too, we’re also going to build what S-Con does so we’ll have an HSV/FPV-style of product coming off the new large six too, and it just looks sensational.

"We’ll do something with the engine – you’d need to for a product like that. You couldn’t put it to market just with a stock-standard engine.

"It will be a sold under a separate (yet-to-be-named) brand, but will be built on the production line like a normal car before we fit other components." Mr Buttner said S-Con, led by Peter McGregor, would produce at least three separate models – likely to be based on Aurion, the new Camry and possibly Corolla – at 18-month intervals, before Toyota confirmed further performance models.

Other Toyotas displayed in Melbourne included two examples of this month’s new RAV4, the Yaris sedan due on sale next month and two versions of the redesigned Tarago, due here in March.

When tomorrow comes

TOYOTA has cast its corporate eyes to the stars for naming inspiration for its Avalon replacement.

Taking its name an ancient Greek word for "tomorrow", Aurion will spearhead a greater role in future global Toyota designs, according to Toyota Style Australia (TSA) design development manager, Paul Beranger.

TSA’s chief admitted the success of the X-Runner ute and Sportivo concepts several years ago had awakened Toyota Japan to the local operation’s capabilities.

"The Aurion today is the outcome of that work," Mr Beranger said.

The Aurion, and for that matter next-generation Camry upon which it is based, represented one of the most detailed future four- and six-cylinder product assessments ever undertaken by Toyota Motor Corporation Australia (TMCA), he said.

"TMCA simultaneously developed the local model range and the model range for our overseas customers in Melbourne in sync with Japan," he said.

"It is probably one of the most significant jobs that any subsidiary of Toyota Japan has done anywhere in the world." Mr Beranger said that even though other Toyota styling centres had lobbied for the Aurion project, Toyota Australia’s aggressive efforts, led by designer Nick Hogios, won the day.

Hogios’ final design was a collaboration between Japanese and Taiwanese designers but he is largely responsible for the car’s frontal treatment.

"We have been extremely influential in the design of the car," Mr Beranger said.

The car’s local design elements will be adapted for Aurions built in Asia for various Asian countries, including China. Toyota’s Altona plant will export Aurion to the Middle East and 26 other countries, along with the new Camry.

The Aurion and Camry have only the doors in common and the sloping rear window but design manager, Nick Hogios said the Aurion had a distinctive, muscular look. It has a wide track, huge badges and lower ride height, all efforts to improve the car’s on-road stance, he said.

Mr Hogios, who spent nine months in Japan working on Aurion, said the car’s muscular proportions were important to distinguish it from Camry.

His efforts with the car’s front-end treatment also won favour with Toyota Japan.

The car has what Hogios calls "double concave architecture" at the front with its strong bonnet line and deep grille. At the rear there is a deep bumper, clamshell style boot lid that folds over to the car’s flanks, dual exhausts and crisp, jewelled tail-lights.

"We wanted a distinctly Australian large-car feel," he said.

Mr Hogios was also aware that the Aurion should not be too similar to Lexus.

"Lexus has a quite distinct design now and so does the Aurion," he said.

Toyota also presented the Aurion to buyer clinics and Mr Hogios said the overwhelming response was that it was a "European-style car" with a premium look.

Mr Beranger believes the Aurion will also appeal to a younger customer base than the Avalon.

What's coming from Toyota:

Yaris sedan - March 2006
All-new Tarago - March 2006
All-new Camry - July 2006
All-new Aurion - Oct 2006
All-new LandCruiser - 2007
All-new Corolla - 2007
All-new Prius - 2007

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