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Is this car the 2015 Toyota Camry?

The most popular car in America will need to really step it up if it wishes to stay at the head of the pack. That could mean moving the Toyota Camry to all hybrid drivetrains.

As our recent overview of the 2014 Toyota Camry pointed out, there is very little about the car that makes headlines. Other models from Honda and Mazda are now the fuel economy leaders, and there are many better looking cars in the market. The time has come for Toyota to really shake up the Camry.

The Toyota Camry was the first sedan for sale in America as a hybrid. It followed the excellent Prius which went on to become the most popular Toyota in many important global and US markets. The Camry Hybrid is still an excellent car, but the shock and awe of its fuel economy is now well past. The Accord beats it up handily, getting about 20% better fuel economy and impressed everyone with it 50 MPG city rating this year as a 2014 model. It really only gets worse for the Camry from there. However, Toyota is possibly the most powerful automaker on the planet right now and we expect that it is going to really blow away expectations with its next Camry which could come shortly after the 2014 model year.

Starting with the hybrid we should expect that the next Camry will at least match the current Accord, and possibly strive for a 50 MPG combined rating. The Accord is in striking distance now at 47 MPG combined. To keep moving ahead the Camry will need some real bravery because it is deeply invested in its current design. Trying to squeeze more from that existing equipment will at some point prove impossible and Toyota will have to move to new hybrid technology. The first big change will be a plug-in hybrid Camry. The 2012 NS4 Concept shown as a plug-in hybrid is obviously a strong hint that is coming. Toyota could do that now if it wanted to, but it does not need the ZEV credits due to its Prius line’s huge popularity in California, so it has had little reason to rush. That gave Toyota the opportunity to wait until the Camry needed a major refresh, and that time is coming in 2015.

The next big move will be to a CVT style transmission in its base model cars that Toyota will expand upward form the Corolla line. The CVTi-S brings the Corolla all the fuel economy gain with no drivability pain, and it will most certainly be part of all the 4-cylinder front wheel drive vehicles Toyota sells in the future. Similarly, the Valvematic system used in the Corolla LE Eco will be a part of the future Camry cars. In combination with active front aerodynamics, a new alternator that only charges the car when “free” power is available, and stop-start technology (possible first in class) the next Camry could hit 41 mpg highway and touch 30 mpg city to regain the fuel economy lead in the class.

There is one other way Camry might shake up the marketplace. Camry could be the first mainstream car to move to an all-hybrid drivetrain, meaning that all Camrys would have some form of electric assist. Only Toyota has the volume to make that work combined with the company culture to try it. If it did, we would expect three drivetrains. One would be the “base” and the other the “advanced.” The base hybrid would be a lighter hybrid than in the past with less elaborate electrification. It would build upon the new CVT and other changes to bump the base Camry up just enough in fuel economy to put it ahead of the entire pack of competitor's base cars. The next step up the Camry line would have more extreme fuel economy and a fully integrated hybrid drive, like the current Accord Hybrid. These two would be augmented by a plug-in hybrid that would be similar to the Accord and Plug-In Prius in that it could operate mainly as an electric car around town, but could use its gasoline motor when that made sense.

If we had to place a wager it would be against the 6 cylinder continuing on. When it dropped the 6 cylinder from the RAV 4 Toyota executives mentally thought “Those that want a 6 cylinder can buy the Highlander, and we sell only about 10 percent of the volume that way anyway.” That same logic will apply to the Camry and the Avalon will continue to offer a 6 cylinder option.

The generational change in the Camry from 2011 to 2012 was a very slight change. That would seem to imply that Toyota was already considering an all-new platform, and all new drivetrains for model year 2015 or 2016. Toyota knows it has to embrace change in the Camry if it wants to keep it number one. Not doing so poses the biggest risk.

Image is a Toyota NS4 Concept Car courtesy of Toyota’s media site.


Jackie Ferrara (not verified)    October 24, 2013 - 10:59AM

I have very fond memories of a Camry my family owned. But I agree there are better looking cars out there and better mileage to be found as well.