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Toyota’s last Aussie Camry reaches production

End of an era: After building cars in Australia since 1963, Toyota will close its factories in 2017 and the Camry will be the last car off the production line.

Final Australian-built Toyota Camry revealed in line-off ceremony at Altona

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Toyota logo28 Apr 2015

By TIM NICHOLSON

TOYOTA’S last Australian-built Camry was officially unveiled at a line-off ceremony at its Altona plant in Melbourne today, with the heavily modified mid-size sedan set to see the facility out until it is decommissioned at the end of 2017.

A mid-life update for the current seventh-generation model that went on sale in late 2011, the latest Camry – known internally as ‘Big Minor Change’ – arrives in showrooms next month and is expected to maintain its dominance in the increasingly competitive medium-car segment.

Toyota Australia expects to produce about 90,000 Camrys in Australia for domestic and export markets each year between now and the end of manufacturing in 2017.

In terms of a daily production-line rate, this equates to approximately 420 units per day.

An estimated 70 per cent of vehicles built at Altona will be sent offshore to the Middle East, New Zealand, South Pacific Islands and an intriguing new territory for the brand, Thailand, which is widely tipped to take over production from the Australian operation. Toyota Australia president Dave Buttner said the company was hopeful that the 90,000 annual production rate could be maintained and highlighted the many Australian suppliers it needed to produce the car, which is said to have 65 per cent local content.

“That’s certainly our hope,” he said. “We are pitching ourselves at 90,000 a year for the next three years. And that’s very important to our local suppliers. We need them to stay the journey with us and they need a certain volume to recoup their fixed costs.

“And in discussions with them we believe that is an appropriate volume and a volume we can maintain for the next three years.” Overall costs for the development of the vehicle was $109 million, with $23.6 million coming from the federal government and an undisclosed figure derived from the Victorian state government.

Mr Buttner said the line-off ceremony was a bittersweet moment for staff and management – 2500 jobs will be directly lost as a result of the factory closure – and added that while he would like to keep building cars in Australia, too many factors counted against it.

“Would we like to continue as a manufacturer? Of course we would. We employ a large number of people that make a significant contribution to the Australian economy,” he said.

“Naturally we would have liked to continue on that journey. But a whole host of factors at the same time meant we couldn’t do that.” Popular with private buyers but a favourite of fleets, the Camry is the best-selling mid-sizer in Australia by some margin, shifting 22,044 units locally last year for a 44.5 per cent market share in its segment, with its closest competitor, the Mazda6, finding 5883 homes in the same period.

It was also the second-best-selling Australian-built car in 2014 behind the Holden Commodore, which hit 30,203 units last year.

So far this year, the Camry, which is in run-out, has sold 5219 units, representing a 4.7 per cent increase over the same period last year.

Mr Buttner said he was confident the new Camry would sustain its high volumes in Australia, but stopped short of discussing sales targets.

“We will talk to our dealers in the next couple of weeks when we have our final launch of our product to talk about volume expectations. But we believe when you look at the vehicle – all new panels, a whole new shape – it is indeed a new-look Camry, so we expect it to be very successful on the domestic market.” Mr Buttner said it was critical for the company to maintain the Camry nameplate beyond 2017, given the strong brand recognition from its private and business buyers.

“We were very keen to maintain the Camry name. Whether you are a private buyer or a fleet buyer, in your whole-of-life cost of the vehicle, I think the biggest asset you have is the residual value of the vehicle,” he said.

“So if there is no continuity, that doesn’t instil confidence in you as either a private buyer, or as a fleet customer or a government buyer. Our commitment to continuing the brand name, albeit in imported capacity, means hopefully we have given confidence to those fleets.

“We went out in February last year on the back of the announcement of the closure, we went the next day to all of our big fleet customers across Australia, we spoke to each and every one about our intention to continue the brand name to hopefully give them that ongoing confidence that they can still buy Camry and know that the brand will be here for the long haul.” When asked if he expected fleet sales of the Camry to contract after 2017, Mr Buttner said there had been no indication from business buyers that they would pull away from the brand.

“Honestly we haven’t seen any negativity, and fleets these days are very astute. They have a bottom line commitment to their respective companies. They are very, very focused on what is value for money – what gives their drivers or their custodians the comfort and convenience that they require and the safety that they require.

“So we generally believe that Camry will continue to be very, very strong amongst our fleet and our private customers.” Mr Buttner said Toyota Australia was working on securing the Thailand export program before it announced that it would close its local facility, and that it would include 2500-3000 units per year.

“Before the final closure announcement back in February last year, we were still continuing in a very, very positive vein to be a manufacturer here for quite some time so you are always looking for extra markets to help augment your volume in your plant to either maintain what you have or grow it even further,” he said.

“So that export volume really came from that plan to continue in the future.” Mr Buttner did not confirm where the next-generation Camry – due in 2018 – will be sourced from, admitting that he simply did not know.

There are nine plants globally that build the Camry, six of which can produce the hybrid variant, but it is widely believed that the car-maker will bring the eighth-generation version from Thailand, where it sources its HiLux utility and Corolla sedan.

The line-off ceremony was attended by federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane, Victorian state industry minister Lily D’Ambrosio, Toyota Australia chairman Max Yasuda and Toyota Motor Corporation managing officer Shinya Kotera, each of whom praised the factory staff for their dedication and commitment to the company.

The Japanese car-maker builds the Camry and the larger V6-powered Aurion at Altona. More than 3.2 million Toyotas have been produced in Australia since 1963.

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