MAUNA KEA, Hawaii —Motor Corp., which wooed youthful Baby Boomers way back when, is now going after their kids and grandkids with an all-new cross/utility vehicle (CUV) debuting at dealerships in February as an '03 model.
The Corolla Matrix, shown off to media here, will share the same platform and first name as the Corolla sedan, which itself is being freshened up for greater youth appeal. But the two vehicles will sport different looks and aim at different segments of the coveted youth market.
It's a market thatproduct planners admit they've neglected in recent years.
“We took our eye off the ball,” says Irving A. Miller, a group vice president at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. “We captured the Baby Boomers years ago and kept them as customers. We've got to do that with Generation X and Y. They're a huge market. We're thinking 10 years up.”
David Terai, assistant chief engineer for Toyota, says, “What was needed was a second vehicle, a new concept in cool for everyone too young and too hip for the Corolla sedan.”
That's why the Matrix is making the scene.
It's designed to blend the functionality of an SUV with the style and image of a sports car, says Terai.
The angular-looking Matrix and its competitor cousin, the Pontiac Vibe, enter a rapidly expanding crossover segment as vehicles that look like an SUV and drive like a car. CUVs are the only truly hot segment in the market today. Market share has gone from 2.3% in 2000 to 5.7% in 2001. By comparison, the small car segment dropped from 14.1% to 13.9% in the same period.
Both the Matrix and Vibe also are influenced heavily by the sport compact car phenomenon that's swept the West Coast and the South. Toyota's Newport Beach, CA, design studio styled the Matrix.
The designers' theme for the Matrix was “street performance utility.” Their assignment was to render a sporty new-age take on the basic SUV configuration of four doors and a liftgate.
The Matrix is designed to appeal to what Terai calls “the most heavily pursued buyer on the planet” — members of the youth set who are “easily identified but tough to win over.”
The Matrix comes in three grade levels, Standard, XR and XRS sport model with a high performance 180-hp 1.8L 4-cyl. and standard equipment such as antilock brakes and 16-in. aluminum alloy wheels.
Toyota will produce about 70,000 to 75,000 Matrixes in 2002. They'll be built at Toyota's plant in Cambridge, Ont., Canada.