Why Toyota should and should not market its fuel cell vehicle as a Camry
Tomorrow Toyota will show the production version of its fuel cell vehicle, which it creatively calls the FCV. The vehicle will make its first production version appearance in Aspen at the Ideas Conference. Just yesterday the company revealed the car in the Japanese market. This mid-size sedan has the approximate dimensions and basic mission of the current Camry. It also has about the same range as a Camry on a tank of “fuel.” Will Toyota eventually market this vehicle as a Camry? There are good reasons why, and why not to do it. Let’s weigh the two options.
Toyota Should Market the FCV as a Camry Fuel Cell Car
If Toyota is serious about not going forward with battery electric vehicles, then making a Camry FC (as in Fuel Cell) would do wonders for the idea of moving fuel cell vehicles forward. Camry is the number one car model in the US, and has always been near first for decades. By adding a Camry FC to the model line (alongside the Camry hybrid and other Camry cars) Toyota would signal that the debate is over and fuel cell cars are now here.
This would require that Camry be modified to accept the fuel cell, or more reasonably, the FCV would be re-skinned to look more like a Camry. The fuel cell and the other drive components would make it hard to simply drop the fuel cell drivetrain into the current Camry. It is absolutely doable for Toyota, they would just have to decide to make it happen.
The main benefit here is that Camry carries a lot of weight in the consumer consciousness. Camry is overwhelmingly a positive word in the car world. If Toyota labeled its Camry an FC it could help the fuel cell cause.
Keep the Toyota Fuel Cell Car Separate Like the Prius Line
The other side of the coin is the idea that keeping the FCV separate might also have some benefit to both Toyota and to the fuel cell vehicle becoming a viable new option. The Prius model worked. It worked for many good reasons, but one reason was Toyota build a “brand” around the Prius. It is a no-holds-barred fuel miser and a hybrid. The Prius line sells extremely well and everyone that says the word imagines one in their mind and they know what it is and what it does. And what it does not do.
By keeping the FVC separate, Toyota could, over time, develop the FCV into a family of cars like the Prius line has successfully become. Mixing in the Camry name might just confuse people and make it seem like the Camry has been modified to run on hydrogen.
The Toyota FCV is going on sale in Japan in less than a year and will be sold in the US soon after. Toyota is the number one automaker on Earth in terms of both sales volume and profit. Especially profit. Toyota’s Bob Carter said this week that “The success of fuel cell technology will depend less on the genius of the car, than on the ownership experience. Stay tuned, because this infrastructure thing is going to happen.” We have no doubt it will. However we do wonder whether it will be a Camry using that infrastructure or not.