CARLSBAD, CA -Motor Corp. knows it has a way to travel to bring young carbuyers into the fold. While aging Baby Boomers last year made the Toyota Camry No.1 in U.S. sedan sales, Boomer babies want nothing to do with their parent's staid and boring cars.
Sois looking to lure Generation Xers, as well as those coming up behind them, with a new direction for both the sporty seventh-generation Celica and new entry-level Echo sedan.
While sharing the same goal, the two cars are radically different. Yet, Toyota believes their appeal will span young needs and pocketbooks to the tune of 200,000 combined sales per year.
The '00 Celica sports coupe is edgy, leaner and meaner, says Don Esmond, group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Echo, meanwhile, brings a new name and a sensible yet high-tech concept.
Toyota's Calty design studio in Newport Beach helped the 28-year-old Celica coupe take on a sharper, more aggressive stance, with what designers call high-fashion Indy-car elements: sharp-edged panels, plunging curves, a tall tail and radically lowered front fascia. Inside, the race car theme is maintained with a simple crossover dash layout with large analog gauges.
Shorter in length than past models, Celica is longer in wheelbase, with greatly reduced front and rear overhangs on a new, Japanese-market Camry platform. The more pricey Celica GT-S is powered by an all-new 1.8L 4-cyl. DOHC all-aluminum engine that generates 180 hp. at 7,600 rpm and 133 lb.-ft. (180 Nm) of torque at 6,800 rpm.
The powerplant, co-developed with Yamaha, utilizes variable valve timing and lift with intelligence control (VVTL-i), allowing for considerably improved performance from 6,000 rpm to redline at 7,800 rpm by increasing the intake/exhaust lift when the engine speed is high, to improve output and fuel efficiency.
Add a car weight of 2,500 lbs. (1,140 kg) and it all adds up to one of the best power-to-weight ratios in the segment, Toyota officials say. Additionally, the GT-S offers a 6-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic with E-shift steering-wheel-mounted buttons, similar to a Formula 1 racecar. Tadashi Nagakawa, Celica's chief engineer, says the car's handling is more balanced and more stable and its ride more comfortable. "And it will stop much quicker," he says, "with better control over a shorter distance."
Toyota expects to sell 40,000 Celica models in the car's first year, starting Oct. 1. The price, to be announced in September, is expected to be the same or less than the current base model, which now has a sticker price of $21,860, including destination charge.
Fast and sleek is not a word that comes to mind at Echo's first glance. That's OK with chief engineer Yasuhiko Ishihashi. "My goal with Echo was to create a new basic concept that met customers' expectations of convenience and enjoyment at a price that was affordable," he says.
To achieve this required a completely new platform and a new direction in passenger compartment packaging. Nearly every component is new, he says, and shared with no other vehicle. What Echo does share is the New Basic Car (NBC) initiative Toyota has underway to develop a highly efficient world car for youth markets.
The project has resulted in the Vitz hatchback for Japan, the Yaris for Europe (both with 1L engines) and the new 1.5L DOHC 4-cyl. engine, with Toyota's VVTL-i technology for Echo in the U.S. market. Toyota says each car is new from the ground up, representing clean-sheet designs for subcompact cars.
VVTL-i delivers a balance of power and fuel economy, allowing Echo to be EPA-certified as a low-emission vehicle (LEV). The engine features an aluminum block and head and new plastic composite intake manifold, contributing to a low curb weight of 2,000 lbs. Engine output is 108 hp at 6,000 rpm and 105 lb.-ft. (142 Nm) of torque at 4,200 rpm.
Echo achieves its interior roominess by combining a tall profile and a cab-forward design, providing for upright seating position similar to that of a minivan, with the instrument cluster center-mounted high on the dash. Toyota says Echo will be one of its highest-mileage 1.5L vehicles ever offered in the U.S., with preliminary tests showing 43 mpg (5.5L/100 km) combined.
Echo will be offered in both 2- and 4-door versions and will be priced substantially below the Toyota Corolla (around $12,000), yet will offer nearly identical passenger volume.
Echo comes with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission; uphill shift logic; MacPherson struts with coils springs in front and torsion beams in the rear; rack-and-pinion steering; front ventilated disc brakes with rear drums; and rear suspension with toe-correcting geometry.
"As each new generation emerges and becomes a force in the economy, our philosophies and brand culture must adjust and reintroduce themselves," says Mark Del Rosso, manager of the Genesis group, responsible for developing a more youthful image for Toyota. Toyota has rolled the dice. The question now is whether the new generation wants in the game.