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Is NASCAR Going Global, or Toyota Going Native?

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Toyota Joins NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Racing Series in 2007
Back in 2004 when Toyota announced its participation in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with the Tundra, speculation started about whether the company would go for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. As of January 2006, three teams have signed up to race Camry sedans in the 2007 NEXTEL Cup series (Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, and newcomer-to-NASCAR Team Red Bull). Busch teams have not been announced. Toyota’s website for NASCAR_2007 says “This Year Will go Very Fast.”
The Camry has held the best-selling car slot for the past four years (and eight of the past nine). It has long stood for dependable, reliable transportation, but not inspired emotion or passion. Racing the Camry on Sunday is more about generating excitement for Camry and Toyota brands than about direct increases in sales on Monday. Toyota’s involvement in NASCAR will not convert a deeply pro-American buyer into a Camry owner. Nothing will do that. But it can give Camry owners something to be proud of on NASCAR race days and may attract some with less-idealistic reasons for not having considered a Camry.


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Toyota Juggernaut – Flurry of Intros in ’06

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We have all been following the press accounts of Toyota becoming the top producing vehicle manufacturer in the world in 2006 and we have heard statements by Toyota management that Toyota is going to become more aggressive in the future. Historically, Toyota has taken a relatively humble and mild stance to its growing presence worldwide and in the USA particularly, but in 2003 the gloves came off with Toyota Motor Sales USA taking a higher profile. Their pace of advance will quicken substantially in 2006.
VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific‘s President George Peterson takes a quick look at Toyota’s 2006 plans.
Toyota Has Guns Blazing in 2006
It looks like the 2007 model year is going to be the year when Toyota really comes in with all guns blazing. I guess that we can’t include the all new RAV4, now moving upmarket and sporting a 3.5L V6 engine as part of the onslaught. It was launched in late 2005 as a 2006 model. The new RAV4 is outstanding and is reported to be the fastest vehicle carrying a Toyota badge today.
During 2006, the 2007 models will be introduced starting with the all new Yaris, major change for the Camry, launch of an all new hybrid Toyota Camry, launch of the all new FJ Cruiser, launch of a truly competitive full size pickup, launch of a new Lexus ES330 and new Lexus LS460.
AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo sums it up well in his observations of Toyota, “We’re not only going to tell you what play we’re going to run, we’re going to ram the ball down your throats knowing that there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop us. What can you say about Toyota other than that they continue in their relentless pursuit of world domination, and there appears to be no one capable of standing in their way?”
Lets touch on each of these in order of launch…


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Let's Talk Cars: GM, Fuji and Toyota

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Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars.”

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The premier episode of Let’s Talk Cars covers the purchase of General_Motors‘ stake in Fuji Heavy Industries by Toyota Motor Corporation. Is GM finding ways to streamline it’s operations? How does Saab fit into the picture?
Noted industry analyst Jim Hall speaks with AutoPacific founder and VehicleVoice editor George Peterson to give you the inside scoop on this hot automotive topic.


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USA Today – Yaris Pleasant Enough to Drive

Jim Healey of USA Today reaches similar conclusions as VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) relative to the upcoming Toyota Yaris. Excellent replacement for the Toyota Echo, low entry price, but seems a little expensive when loaded with equipment most American drivers demand.
ATLANTA — Yaris is a small, economy car that will replace the unloved Echo in Toyota’s U.S. lineup this spring, and while it is pleasant enough behind the wheel, Yaris seems to fall short of Toyota’s promise of a premium vehicle at a bargain price.
Two body styles of Toyota’s Yaris are offered in the USA, a four-door sedan and a “liftback.”
Final judgment must wait for specific pricing, which Toyota won’t announce until closer to Yaris’ March or April on-sale date. But $12,000 to start is a fair guess, and for that price you won’t get a radio, possibly not a tachometer, definitely not anti-lock brakes. (Photos/audio: Toyota Yaris with Healey’s comments)
Most of the desirable features are available, for a price. If that strategy bumps Yaris up to, say, $14,000 outfitted as most Americans like, then it will be within a few hundred dollars of bigger, more refined cars such as Honda Civic and Toyota’s own Corolla. Not incidentally, Corolla’s fuel-economy rating is better than Yaris’, and Civic’s is nearly as good, even though both are bigger, heavier and have more-powerful engines.
The industry axiom is “small cars, small profits,” and it’s often true. So why bother introducing a subcompact into the size- and space- and power-loving American market? Because 45% of small-car owners — the most of any segment — eventually trade up to pricier, more-profitable models known as premium compacts, such as Civic and Corolla, according to the Power Information Network. And within that group, a significant number — 30%-plus is common — stay with the same brand, PIN data show.
In other words, buyers captured by small cars don’t require as much expensive persuading to get them to move up through the same car company’s more-profitable models.
Hoping to leverage Yaris’ appeal, Toyota says it put two separate engineering teams to work on two versions of Yaris — a four-door sedan and a two-door hatchback — and kept them apart to encourage independent design.
Toyota calls the hatchback a “liftback,” sensing that “hatchback” remains a pejorative term in the U.S. market.
The sedan is the bigger car, outside and in. The rear seat in the hatchback slides fore-aft to maximize either legroom or cargo space. With the rear seat all the way back, there is plenty of adult legroom. That’s remarkable in such a small vehicle.
The main test vehicle was a two-door hatchback equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.


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Long Live Yaris, Toyota Echo is Dead!

VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have been strong advocates of replacing the bottom of Toyota’s lineup – the Echo – in the USA with the Yaris. The Echo was an unlucky car. Echo was designed for the lowest common denominator buyer and was ugly to boot. Sure it was inexpensive, but it was an embarrassment to be seen in. A Hyundai Accent was a better choice especially with its 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
Echo and Yaris are essentially the same car, but somehow Echo’s styling came across as terminally dorky and Yaris looks sophisticated. The conventional wisdom is that hatchbacks don’t sell in the USA and cars need to have trunks to sell here. Well, an ugly car with a trunk won’t sell anywhere. Thankfully, Toyota Motor Sales USA convinced its Japanese parent company to bring the critically acclaimed Yaris into the USA in lieu of the Echo.
Toyota will add a Yaris 4-door sedan and 3-door hatchback to its line-up in Spring 2006.
Here is the press release Toyota released announcing the launch of Yaris…
European Favorite Toyota Yaris Arrives in U.S. in All-New Liftback and Sedan Versions
toyota-yaris-sh-01.jpg
2007 Toyota Yaris 4-door sedan and 3-door hatchback
12/26/2005, Torrance, CA: The 2007 Toyota Yaris will make its U.S. debut when it arrives in showrooms this spring in four-door Sedan and three-door Liftback configurations.
First launched in Europe in 1999, the Yaris was named the 2000 European “Car of the Year” and has become Toyota’s best-selling model in the European market. In fact, Yaris was also named “Japan Car of the Year,” marking the first time the same vehicle captured both honors in the same year. For the U.S., the Yaris will replace the ECHO in the subcompact passenger-car segment.
“As Toyota’s most affordable passenger car, the Yaris will feature contemporary exterior styling and a surprising upscale interior,” said Jim Lentz, Toyota division group vice president and general manager. “It will be one of the most economic and youthful passenger cars Toyota has built in the subcompact category.”
The Yaris Liftback will be offered in one grade, while the Sedan will offer two grades, adding a sport-themed Yaris S.


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2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser – Concept to Reality

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VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have been closely watching the development of the Toyota FJ Cruiser since retro SUV concepts began appearing at Toyota auto show displays in the early 2000s. The FJ Cruiser, shown in essentially production form during the 2003 auto show season, is the first truly retro SUV to come to market it’s certainly more capable than the pseudo-SUV Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevrolet HHR and the Honda Element (which also uses rear access doors similar to FJ Cruiser). In fact, FJ Cruiser is a true off-roader more of the ilk of the Nissan Xterra.
FJ Cruiser Blog.jpg
2007 FJ Cruiser w/FJ40 in background
On December 26, 2005 Toyota issued the following (lenghty) press release supporting the launch of the FJ Cruiser. Sales will begin in March 2006 with production in Japan.

2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser: The Result of Art, Technology and Heritage

12/26/2005 Torrance, CA: Toyota advances both the art and science of the off-road vehicle while recalling its own off-road heritage with the introduction of the 2007 FJ Cruiser sport-utility vehicle (SUV), available in March 2006.
The FJ Cruiser offers a youthful, contemporary spirit and employs the same state-of-the-art comfort, power, economy, safety, emissions and convenience technology available in other Toyota vehicles. As it does so, it provides optimized off-road capabilities, value and styling clues reminiscent of Toyota’s famed FJ40 4×4 utility vehicle, sold in the U.S. from 1960 to 1983. The FJ40, which during its production life served around the world as the safari and expedition vehicle of choice, remains a desirable and collectable off-road vehicle.
“The FJ Cruiser effectively fills a gap in the Toyota lineup that was once our core heritage – capable, affordable and durable vehicles that are youthful, fun to drive, aggressive and tough,” said Jim Lentz, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. “The FJ Cruiser will deliver true off-road ruggedness, image and performance at an affordable price, making it highly accessible and desirable to a large volume of young buyers.”
The five-passenger FJ Cruiser was designed as a concept vehicle at Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, Calif. It was first seen at Detroit’s North American International Automobile Show in 2003. Public and media reaction to the FJ Cruiser concept was so positive that the vehicle was slated for production using most of the same design parameters as the original concept. As an indicator of the vehicle’s unmistakable family DNA, several of the FJ Cruiser’s available color choices are reminiscent of the colors found on FJ40s.


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Automotive Lease Guide Releases Residual Value Awards

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Automotive Lease Guide is an influential and closely watched barometer of the value of brands and vehicles in the USA. ALG’s data are used by leasing companies to set the values for vehicles two and three years in the future and are critical in determining what lease rates a lessee will pay.
While ALG’s Residual Value Awards are not of the ilk of Motor Trend, Automobile, Car & Driver enthusiast awards, they provide an interesting counterpoint to awards based test track measurements, zero to 60 times and seat of the pants opinions. Here is the text of the ALG release…

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ALG’s annual Residual Value Awards honor those vehicles in each automotive segment predicted to retain the highest percentage of their original price. For the third consecutive year, American Honda Motor Company, Inc. heads the list with the Honda Brand winning the Industry Brand Residual Value Award. Honda also received two individual segment awards: the Odyssey for the Minivan Segment and the Accord for the Midsize Car Segment. This is the fifth consecutive win for the Honda Odyssey and the second win for the Accord.
Acura, a division of American Honda Motor Company, Inc., is the winner of the Near Luxury Car Segment for the TL.
BMW of North America, LLC has once again made a strong showing by winning the Luxury Brand Residual Value Award for the third consecutive year. MINI USA, a division of BMW of North America, has won the Compact Car Segment for the MINI Cooper for the fourth time.
Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. took home the most Residual Value Awards this year by winning six individual segment awards: the Avalon for the Fullsize Car Segment, Tacoma Pick-up for the Compact Truck Segment, Tundra for the Fullsize Truck Segment, RAV4 for the Compact SUV Segment, 4Runner for the Midsize SUV Segment, and the Sequoia for the Fullsize SUV Segment. This is the fifth consecutive win for the Toyota Tacoma, Tundra and Sequoia; and the third consecutive win for the 4Runner.
Mercedes-Benz USA LLC is the winner of this year’s Luxury Car Segment award for the CLS Class.
The Sports Car Segment award this year goes to Porsche Cars North America, Inc. for the 911 Carrera.
And last but not least, the CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) award goes to Land Rover North America, Inc. for the Range Rover Sport.
“In an era of negative pricing and overcapacity, Residual Value excellence is increasingly difficult to achieve,” said Raj Sundaram, President of Automotive Lease Guide. “Both the segment and brand winners clearly demonstrate that quality products combined with effective pricing strategies will rise to the top.” Sundaram added that, “While the top rankings did not change, several brands have shown significant improvement over last year, highlighting the importance manufacturers are placing on residual value as a long-term objective.”
This year’s awards are based on 2006 model year vehicles. For the fourth year, ALG has also included awards for the brand with the highest predicted resale value of all industry and luxury vehicles. The awards are derived after careful study of segment competition, historical vehicle performance and
industry trends. Award winners are featured on http://www.alg.com, The Wall Street Journal, Automotive News, and other automotive publications and websites dedicated to bringing the industry’s best performing models into the
public eye.


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Crossover SUVs to Outsell Traditional SUVs in 2006

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Crossover SUVs will outsell Traditional truck-based SUVs beginning in 2006. This forecast comes from George Pipas, Ford’s Manager of Sales Analysis and Reporting in a presentation in Long Beach, CA on December 12, 2005. Refer to the VehicleVoice Blog on December 8 citing a USA Today article on similar observations.

A Few Comments on What a Crossover SUV Is

Pipas’ analysis charts the meteoric rise of Traditional SUVs during the 1990s and the similarly meteoric rise of Crossover SUVs since 1996 when the first crossovers – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 – were introduced. Of course, defining SUV categories is getting murkier and murkier. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have used the “at-a-glance” rule to define SUVs. If you can, at-a-glance, tell that a vehicle is an SUV, then by golly it is an SUV. In this way you are not confused about whether it is car-based or truck-based. (Pipas contends that only about 70% of Crossover SUVs meet this at-a-glance requirement with 30% easily confused as cars, hatchbacks, or wagons.)
Escalade Blog.jpg Traditional SUV 2007 Cadillac Escalade – Category Expected to Decline as a Percentage of Overall SUV Universe
The auto industry thinks differently and often gets caught up in definition problems. They have variously called car-based SUVs “hybrids” (a term since adopted by gasoline-electric ‘hybrid’ powerplants) or “crossovers”. In our research, we have found that folks really have not yet adopted the crossover term and still like to refer to SUVs as SUVs. But enough about splitting hairs about what is a crossover and what is not.


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Dear Valued Hybrid Customer…

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This editorial appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, November 30, 2005. Written tongue-in-cheek, Jenkins pokes fun at the hype hybrids have achieved to date. Indeed, his commentary reflects some of the perceptions gathered in our September, 2005 VehicleVoice (http://vehiclevoice.com) Hybrid Study.

Dear Valued Hybrid Customer…

Business World/by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
We at the Toyota Motor Corporation are writing to address certain misconceptions that have arisen about your Toyota Prius model, which we are proud to note is driven by many celebriies, including Prince Charles and HBO’s Larry David.
Prius blog.jpg
Our pioneering gasoline-electric hybrid, introduced in 1999, has become an object of adoration to the world’s enlightened car buyers. Our competitors, including American’s Big Three, are rushing out hybrid vehicles of their own. Unconfirmed media reports say that we at Toyota intend to double our hybrid output to 500,000 vehicles next year. Along with other members of the auto industry, we will be lobbying for tax breaks and HOV privileges for hybrid vehicles.


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Kiplinger's Best New Cars – December 2005

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Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine (December 2005) selects the Best New Cars in several price classes. Their selections are as follows:
Best New Car under $18,000: 2006 Honda Civic. “With its sleek, aerodynamic look, the new Civic gets more power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. Six airbags are now standard equipment.” [Best in Class: Volkswagen New Beetle]
Best New Car – $18,000 – $23,000: 2006 Hyundai Sonata. “It has classy good looks and is surprisingly refined for around $20,000. It also has the most standard safety equipment in its class.”

Best New Car – $23,000 – $30,000: 2006 Dodge Charger R/T.
“Under the hood it’s a whole lot like the Chrysler 300C. But it has a sportier suspension, a lower sticker price and the DNA of a Daytona winner.” [Best in Class: Mini Cooper S Convertible]
Best New Car – $30,000 – $45,000: 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS. “Buick’s large-sedan replacement for the LeSabre offers V6 and V8 power, heated and cooled seats, and remote start. Front bench seats are an option.” [Best in Class: Acura TL]
Best New Car – $45,000 and Over: 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG. “From the performance division of Mercedes-Benz comes a new class with style and luxury to spare. It smothly powers from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.” [Best in Class: Lexus LS430]
Best New Sports Car: 2006 Mazda (Miata) MX-5. “The best-selling roadster gets a thoughtful redesign. Now there is more zoom as well as more room – enough to fit a supermarket haul in the trunk.” [Best in Class: Chevrolet Corvette]
Best New SUV: 2006 Range Rover Sport. “Think of it as a rugged sport sedan, equally at home on city seats or on the savanna.” [Best in Class: Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland]
Best New Crossover Vehicle: 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. “This hybrid utility vehicle gets 33mpg in the city, but it’s no slouch when accelerating. The electric motors give it more power than the V6 gas model.” [Best in Class: Honda Pilot]


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