CHICAGO – The all-new, second-generation Camry Solara Convertible unveiled at the auto show here enjoyed a unique development process, Toyota Motor Corp. officials say.
All-new Solara convertible developed separately from Solara coupe.

Toyota engineers say the Solara Convertible was designed and developed from the onset as a wholly distinct model from the Solara Coupe, meaning it was not engineered as an offshoot of a coupe that would have its roof removed during the manufacturing process.

This strategy helped Toyota to increase markedly the Solara Convertible’s body rigidity and ensure tight sheet metal tolerances and higher-quality fit for interior pieces.

The company says gaps between interior panels have been reduced from 0.06 ins. (1.5 mm) to just 0.02 ins. (0.5 mm).

This is the first time the auto maker has developed a convertible in this fashion. And Solara was completed in 19 months, the shortest time span for a North American-built Toyota.

Don Esmond, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. senior vice president and general manager, calls the Solara Convertible “a vital part of our long-term passenger-car strategy,” for the U.S.

As Toyota has conditioned the industry to expect, it also plans to introduce the ’05 Solara Convertible at a lower price than its predecessor, although pricing was not announced here.

Esmond says the Solara Convertible’s development process, in addition to producing a higher-quality vehicle, also delivers a less-expensive one, largely due to the elimination of the convertible-conversion step from the manufacturing process.

“The cost efficiencies gained by eliminating the conversion process were enormous,” says Esmond. “And those savings will be passed along to the customer.”

A high-level Toyota engineering source tells Ward’s the concurrent development of distinct coupe and convertible body styles is markedly more expensive initially – but those costs are more than recouped in the convertible’s manufacturing process, as well as further down the line with reduced warranty expenses and improved customer satisfaction.

The Solara Convertible will be in dealerships next month in SL and SLE trim levels. All Solara Convertibles are powered by a 3.3L DOHC V-6 that develops 225 hp. The only available transmission is a 5-speed automatic.

Toyota says the car’s roof can be lowered or raised in 10 seconds with the push of a button. The softtop includes a glass rear window but does not fold entirely into the body, leaving a “stack” behind the rear seats.

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com