Toyota’s New Car Is for People Who Don’t Like Toyotas
New C-HR crossover is another attempted style departure for world’s largest auto maker
TOKYO— Toyota Motor Corp. is taking yet another stab at convincing drivers that its vehicles can have a bit of sex appeal, but it concedes that not all consumers will be won over by its efforts to change the way its conservative people-movers are perceived.
Its new C-HR crossover sport-utility vehicle, which went on sale in Japan Wednesday and will be offered in the U.S. starting next spring, is another attempt at a radical style departure for the world’s largest auto maker.
The vehicle’s exaggerated curves and sharp angles are meant to evoke a “sexy diamond,” said Hiroyuki Koba, the Toyota engineer in charge of developing the vehicle, who refers to the look as “sensual.”
Despite its attempt to make an edgy car, Toyota’s traditional conservatism can be found in its modest sales ambitions for the vehicle. “If you love it, you really love it. If you don’t like it, you never will,” Mr. Koba said.
Crossover SUVs are hot sellers across the world, especially in the U.S. where cheap gas is drawing buyers to bigger vehicles. Toyota now sells nearly the same number of RAV4 crossovers as Camry sedans in the U.S. The difference is that RAV4 sales are up 11% year-over-year, while Camry sales are down 9.4% amid a broader slump in the sedan market.
Toyota hopes to sell 170,000 C-HRs a year world-wide, a modest goal given the popularity of crossovers and Toyota’s presence in the global auto market. Toyota sold 430,000 Camrys in the U.S. alone last year.
The company’s modest ambitions might also reflect lessons learned from customer reactions to its redesign of the Prius gas-electric hybrid. Toyota also said that vehicle’s new look would attract younger buyers. The new Prius arrived in the U.S. in January but sales are down 19% for the year.
Despite strong crossover sales in the U.S., Toyota doesn’t plan to make room in its U.S. factories for the vehicle. The company will import C-HRs from its plant in Turkey—despite hints from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that he might target imported cars for higher taxes. Toyota said it could re-examine its production plans in the future.
In the latest push by Toyota President Akio Toyoda to change the conservative image of his company’s vehicles, the auto maker hopes the C-HR will succeed where Toyota’s other radical vehicle designs have failed. Crossover SUV customers care more about how a vehicle looks than Prius customers, Mr. Koba said.
Mr. Koba said he had regular fights with other Toyota engineers, who questioned whether the C-HR reflected what people expect from a Toyota car.
“Some customers might feel the same way,” Mr. Koba said of a car designed to attract customers from Toyota’s flashier competitors. “We are looking for customers who dislike Toyota cars. We want to turn their heads,” he said.