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Toyota's super Camry plan

In your face: Supercharged V6 Camry Sportivo could look a little like this T-CAM-fettled Camry.

A decision on a 180kW supercharged Camry Sportivo is just months away

31 Oct 2002

TOYOTA is just months away from deciding whether to build a 180kW-plus supercharged version of the V6 Camry Sportivo.

A verdict is due by the end of March and if it is in the positive the "Super Sportivo" should be developed in time to be introduced as part of the 380N Camry's mid-life update.

Toyota estimates a supercharged Camry V6 would take 18 months to develop, so that places its introduction out toward late 2004.

Development would most likely be led by the Toyota Conversions Accessories and Motorsport (T-CAM) division, using locally sourced technology.

Toyota Australia's engineering base in Melbourne would also be involved, but already has its hands full with future product development including an all-new Avalon due in 2005.

Of course the same 2995cc 1MZ-FE engine powers the Avalon, but whether it would also be judged suitable for that car by Toyota is unknown.

Thoughts of a supercharged Camry are not new at Toyota Australia. T-CAM did bolt a Toyota Racing Developments blower kit onto the previous 660T Camry to test it out.

And Toyota New Zealand has sold some Camrys with the US supercharger kit fitted.

But T-CAM came away from the exercise unhappy with both the cost of the kit - about $7000 landed in Australia - and the peaky nature of the power delivery via the Eaton supercharger, and the project was shelved.

But a new proposal has been submitted by Toyota Australia manager locally manufactured vehicles Adrian Weimers, the man charged with launching the latest Camry and selling it to a younger audience.

Mr Weimers believes a supercharged V6 Camry performance leader would be a logical step now that the Sportivo Camry has been launched as a full-time and separate product line.

"There is a fairly intense study happening at the moment to identify if we need (to supercharge) and the how to (supercharge) if it's agreed there is a need," Mr Weimers said.

"There's definitely an opportunity there and it's one of the many items we have identified in terms of our long-term business plan that we ought to be looking at," he said.

Mr Weimers refused to be drawn on specific power output for a supercharged Sportivo Camry, but Toyota chassis engineers are confident of the car coping with 180kW in current front-wheel drive form. The US kit bumped power to 184kW.

"We don't have any firm criteria about what that sort of horsepower is going to be because I think it has to be not only the horsepower, but delivered with a combination of technology as well," he said.

"But I certainly think there needs to be a perceptible driving difference between whatever you are putting on versus the normal model." At the moment, the Sportivo's version of the scissor-cam V6 has only a 4kW (145 v 141) and 5Nm (284 v 279) advantage over the standard Altise and Ateva 'fleet-fodder" Camrys courtesy of a couple of exhaust freedoms.

However, 180-odd kiloWatts would put a Super Sportivo in the ballpark against the basic Ford Falcon XR6 (182kW), well ahead of the Holden Commodore S (152kW) and even the Commodore S supercharged (171kW) - not to forget the Ralliart Magna, which generates 180kW.

It would also need to be in the ballpark with these cars on pricing. The normally-aspirated Sportivo V6 is at $38,990, so Toyota would probably be shooting for a price in the low-to-mid $40,000 bracket, which would make it only cheaper than the $48,990 Magna at today's prices.

Of course, the development process and pricing are helped by the fact there is already a range of go-faster accessory gear developed by T-CAM under the Sportivo name for 380N, including a wilder body kit than standard on the Sportivo model with a hi-rise rear wing, 17-inch Vortex wheels and even more sporting suspension tune.

But time and development constraints mean more sophisticated additions like traction and stability control or even all-wheel drive - which the Toyota Modular Platform underpinning Camry can accept - would not be dialled into the initial package.

"That is the discussion that's happening for the next generation local model, so that will occur," Mr Weimers said.

"But in terms of traction, VSC all that sort of stuff, that's outside the realm of the boys at T-CAM - that has to be engineered in at the very beginning." One of the big debates leading up to the March decision will be the economic advantages and disadvantages of sidetracking T-CAM onto the supercharger project from the lucrative if not quite as exciting work it normally does. The small division, with around 22 employees, turns over $70 million per annum.

But it has the experience to do the work, having already played a key role in the development of the old generation turbo Sportivo Corolla which sold in limited numbers.

So not only does T-CAM boss Neal Daniel and his team have the mechanical knowledge, they also understand the massive beaurocracy of Toyota headquarters in Japan and the best way to negotiate the maze successfully.

Considering the cost of the US supercharger kit, the unsatisfactory nature of the power delivery which is at its peak at 6000rpm and the need for Toyota's high quality standards to be met, it is certain that local technology partners would be sought for the Super Sportivo project.

It is believed Mr Daniel has already made at least preliminary contact with several potential suppliers, including WA-based Sprintex and Victorian-based Forced Air Technologies.

Super Sportivo a balancing act

THE introduction of a supercharged Sportivo V6 would be part of an ongoing balancing act Toyota is playing with Camry: maintaining its loyal but ageing buying group while at the same time attracting a younger group to the fold.

The Altise and Ateva - replacements for the CSi and Conquest/CSX - are there very much to pander to the existing audience, but Camry's first full-time local sport model is after fresh sales blood in the 25 to 45-year-old age group.

But why bother chasing them? "Toyota does have an older demographic and there is an ageing society, so in theory we have a captured market," said Adrian Weimers.

"But at the same time we have to look at the cycle of life and we really need to capture them when they are young all the way through to when they are older." Toyota has differentiated Sportivo from the cooking models with more aggressive and sporting styling inside, more honed suspension settings and its own advertising campaign.

"I think by giving some momentum to the Sportivo sub-brand it will become separate to Camry but at the same time rub itself back onto Camry and thereby attract that (youth), so the Sportivo name is really important to us," Mr Weimers said.

"The brand image of Toyota is so incredibly affected by Camry, because Camry represents such a large volume. If we can change the way people see Camry then hopefully we can change the way people see Toyota. That's ultimately what we are trying to do." Mr Weimers said this generation of Camry, which should expire in 2007, would have done its job if it has lowered the car's average buying age by five years down into the high 40s: "If we moved if that far we would be doing awfully well." "This is the first time we are entering this kind of foray (Sportivo) and I think we have to take a longer term strategy on changing people's perception of the brand.

"You can't do it overnight. It's a step by step approach."

Relationships, not just products

A SENIOR Toyota executive concedes it is not only new and more exciting product that the company needs to renew its challenge for number Australian vehicle seller, it also has to reform its relationship with its customers.

Toyota marketing and product boss Peter McGregor told GoAuto the company believed improving the level of customer satisfaction was a key to improving sales levels.

He conceded Toyota was not satisfied with its relationship with its customers and it needed to improve. He also conceded the company was not sure it knew how to achieve that goal.

Holden has had a lock on the top spot in the Australian charts in 2001 and 2002, but Toyota Australia executive vice-president John Conomos has declared Toyota was confident of returning to its "rightful place" at number one in 2003.

Mr McGregor identified two key customer relations issues that needed to be addressed: the reliability of the delivery process and the quality of the customers' purchase experience.

"Our delivery process needs to be more transparent, probably from both a factory and dealership point of view," Mr McGregor said.

"Transparent in terms of where the vehicle actually is and the level of availability. So if a customer walks in and says 'I want to buy a vehicle of this description', the dealer can tell the customer where the vehicle is in the supply chain, when he can expect to receive it and be confident that date will be substantially met.

"I don't think we so much have a problem with the time it takes to get a vehicle to a customer, but we are looking at ways to shorten that time.

"I think the bigger problem that we have is when the customer is given a date for receiving a product, sometimes that date is not met.

Mr McGregor said Toyota was also aware of the need to make the buying experience a good one.

"I think, as with any retailing operation, sometime customers aren't treated well through the buying process," he said.

"In the substantial majority of cases people are doing the right things.

There are always a minority that sometimes give the industry a bad name." Mr McGregor also revealed a review of the dealer network was underway. While he forecast no change to the number of dealers, the number of service, parts and sales satellite outlets may increase as Toyota aims to lift annual vehicle sales in Australia to 200,000 by about 2006.

"Toyota has always been committed to the concept of the entrepreneur as the dealer and our focus within that hasn't changed," Mr McGregor said.

"But we do believe our current network is set for a volume of around 160,000 units per annum, and what we are doing now is looking at our network and what we have to do with it to move towards 200,000." Mr McGregor stressed that attempts to bolster customer satisfaction and the review of the dealer network were being done in consultation with dealers.

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