Toyota Motor Corp.'s revamped Camry, key to the carmaker's U.S. sales revival, is likely to win a favorable review from Consumer Reports magazine, which has been critical of other Toyota and Honda Motor Co. models.
The magazine published by Consumers Union, a non-profit group, is evaluating the 2012 Camry that went on sale in October, David Champion, senior director of vehicle testing, said in an interview.
"It's better than the last Camry," Champion said at the Los Angeles Auto Show last week. "Interior fit and finish is pretty good. It has good-quality materials. The seats are pretty good. Fuel economy is a bit better."Carmakers seek favorable evaluations from the magazine as its reviews are considered the most objective because of policies of accepting no advertising and buying every vehicle it tests. While Toyota models historically fared well in Consumer Reports' reviews, in 2007 the magazine said it would scrutinize the brand more carefully because of problems it found in the Tundra pickup, Lexus GS luxury car and previous V-6 engine Camry sedan.
The magazine in August declined to recommend Honda's 2012 Civic small car, a model it previously favored in that segment. Honda has since said it's considering revisions to Civic, without elaborating.
Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. for 13 of the past 14 years, and Toyota has vowed to retain that position. Toyota's goal is to sell 360,000 units of Camry's next year, below 2007's record 473,108.
Sales this year through October fell 8.8 percent to 251,564 units, the result of reduced output after Japan's earthquake and tsunami cut supplies of parts, according to the company. The Camry decline mirrors Toyota's 8.8 percent U.S. sales slide during the same period.
Reviews for the 2012 Camry have been generally favorable, noting improved driving performance. Most also note that the new car's styling is more conservative than midsize rivals including Hyundai Motor Co.'s Sonata.
"Camry is going to continue to suffer at the hands of Sonata," Eric Noble, president of industry researcher The Car Lab, said at a conference in Los Angeles last week. "It is a far less emotive design."
In terms of styling, Toyota and Honda models are "yesterday's pastiche of old elements," Noble said. Sonata sales rose 16 percent through October to 192,953. Exterior styling is an issue because the new Camry "doesn't look that much different from the old one," Champion said.
Toyota estimates more than 6.8 million Camry models are on the road in the U.S., the largest owner base of any midsize sedan."The car is doing very well," Jim Lentz, president of Toyota's U.S. sales unit, said in an interview last week. "Customers love the exterior styling. They love the interior. They love the audio. We are really excited about the launch of this car."
Since sales began in October, most buyers of the new model are previous owners of Camrys and other Toyota models, Lentz said. The company still needs inventory to build up to reach traditional sales levels of 30,000 a month and that will occur "sometime in February or March," he said.Toyota builds Camrys in Georgetown, Ky., and at an assembly line at affiliate Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Subaru plant in Lafayette, Ind.