YOUNTVILLE, CA –is hoping a fastback design, luxurious interior and hybrid variant will draw younger buyers to its new Avalon large sedan.
The current-generation Avalon customer has a median age of about 65, and the auto maker wants to drop that by 10 years with the ’13 model, which officials here say fits in withCEO Akio Toyoda’s call for more aggressive designs for the somewhat stodgy brand.
“We knew it was time to alter the present course and revitalize (the) Avalon’s image to something more (appealing),” Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s Calty design studio, says at a recent media preview of the new model here.
Calty, in Newport Beach, CA, along with Toyota’s Ann Arbor, MI, technical center, directed the design and engineering of the new Avalon, making it the “most American” Toyota ever, Hunter says.
Needing a “bold departure from the current path,” Hunter says a sketch by a 20-something designer from Calty’s Ann Arbor outpost best represented the elegant and athletic direction for which Toyota was aiming.
After some massaging with other sketches by both Calty locations, a clay model of the new Avalon was created. When a photo was presented to Toyoda, he implored designers not to “change a thing.”
A sleek C-pillar angle is a key styling component of the ’13 Avalon, on sale in the U.S. in December. Hunter says studies were undertaken on how far Toyota designers could push the C-pillar touchdown while still maintaining adequate trunk volume and access, as well as “the benefits of a premium sedan image.”
A more aggressive expression for the Avalon became another key design focus.
The new model debuts Toyota’s “keen look” face, which on the Avalon includes split projector-beam headlights and a large lower grille/slim upper grille design. The latter changes “the perception that a premium sedan must have a large upper grille,” Hunter says.
Toyota officials here acknowledge the brand is falling behind competitors in interiors, and so put more dollars toward bringing the Avalon’s passenger space up to snuff.
For example, stitching on the new model is placed in areas passengers will see the detail upon entering and exiting, Hunter says, and hard plastic trim is kept black to de-emphasize the lower-cost material. Capacitive switches are abundant on the car’s center stack and achieve the goal of a high-tech look in the cabin.
Avalon chief engineer Randy Stephens says the car is the most-researched model ever done by Toyota in North America. Part of that includes the best place to locate the audio knobs on the center stack so as not to activate capacitive switches. A lower placement was decided on as optimal.
The 3.5L V-6 ’13 Avalon starts at $30,990 for an XLE model, about $2,200 less than the ’12 XLE grade, Toyota says, and tops out at $39,650 for the Limited trim level. The Avalon Hybrid ranges from $35,555 for a Premium grade to $41,400 for a Limited. Destination and handling for ’13 Avalons is $760.
Unique for ’13 is the addition of a livery model, based on the XLE grade and with a black exterior and black-leather interior. The chauffeur-focused car is equipped with rear-seat heating and air-conditioning controls. Toyota sees an opportunity to grab sales in the commercial transportation sector with the demise of the Lincoln Town Car.
The size of the Avalon, similar to other large, 4-door competitors pursuing livery sales, such as the300 and Cadillac XTS, as well as its performance, comfort and utility, should appeal to fleet operators and chauffeurs, Toyota believes.
“The cost of ownership really makes it attractive, especially on the hybrid side,” Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager-Toyota Div., says of projected fuel savings. The Avalon Hybrid for livery service will start at $33,750, Fay says, while the 3.5L V-6 livery model begins at $31,000.
Toyota hopes to take a 10%-20% share of livery sedan sales, selling between 500-1,000 dedicated Avalons annually. The discontinued Lincoln Town Car held a hefty 80% of all livery-sedan sales, Toyota estimates.
The Japanese auto maker is looking to sell 70,000 Avalons overall in the U.S. annually, including those to liveries. It sees the V-6 model accounting for 80% of the sales mix, while the hybrid is expected to take 20%. Sales of the current Avalon, on the market since 2005, were up 3.2% through September, to 21,673 units.
A marketing campaign for the new Avalon, targeting 40- to 60-year-old buyers, launches online in November, with print and television ads starting in January. In customer clinics, the Avalon ranked highly in most categories by African Americans, so the auto maker’s ad agency, Burrell, is developing a dedicated campaign for that demographic.
At the Specialty Equipment Market Assn. show today in Las Vegas, Toyota, in partnership with urban magazine DUB, will unveil a custom Avalon. The car has 22-in. TIS wheels in matte-black finish and low-profile Pirelli tires, tinted windows and taillights and a suede console and headliner.
The Avalon continues to be assembled at Toyota’s Georgetown, KY, plant.