Saturday, May 19, 2018

"So a Camry, a Prius, and a Corvette drive onto a racetrack—" Why are you laughing? This isn't a joke.

The Toyota Engineering Motorsports team
Photo: Toyota USA Newsroom.
Seriously. The above headline is not a setup for some kind of corny car-guy punchline. It's for real. And let me preface this by saying that I'm not a Toyota basher at all. In fact, I own a Toyota.

That said, I do share a certain level of the sensibility of many in the automotive press—among them Todd Deeken and Paul Schmucker of Everyday Driver, for instance—that the Toyota Camry and Toyota Prius can be looked at as archetypes of the "appliance on wheels" concept.

To be fair, however, the XV70 generation (2017–present) Camry has taken a significant jump ahead in its visual appeal, in my opinion. That, at least, is  a start.

And the Prius? Well, ... let's just move on with the story.

Toyota appears to be all too aware of the, um, "image problem" of the models in their lineup that have a "grocery getter" or "tree-hugger's-car" reputation. And especially of late, Toyota has seemed heck-bent on countering these perceptions, especially considering the publicity they have given, for example, to their recent entry of three Camrys and a Prius in a challenging 3,657 mile rally

Now, the results of that rally—The Tire Rack One Lap of America (May 5–12)—are in. And Toyota can boast that three teams of Toyota engineers collected trophies for first and second place in the alternate fuel class; third place in the economy class; and third place in the mid-priced sedan class.

The Camry's performance gives Toyota even greater bragging rights, placing ahead of several Corvettes, Camaros and BMWs in a field of 70 cars.

“We push our cars to their limit all day on the track and then hope they hang together for another 6–10 hours of transit driving,” said Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Stamping Engineer Steven Byington. “You eat every meal at a fast food drive thru, you’re averaging 3 or 4 hours of sleep each night and you do it with a smile on your face because you have a passion for driving.”

Toyota was less specific about the performance of the Prius in the competition. According to a statement,  the Prius joined its Camry and Avalon sisters on the team in finishing “'in the money' ahead of vehicles that are much more familiar race platforms."

While the idea of fielding Prius and Camry in a motorsports arena may elicit a chuckle at first, the thinking behind the three teams involved in the effort, which operate under a loose affiliation known as Toyota Engineering Motorsports, is serious and admirable.

As Toyota's statement puts it, "Their philosophy is that lessons learned on the racetrack in vehicle safety, performance, problem solving and teamwork make them better engineers and better engineers make better cars."

And if that also means a move toward putting at least a little more verve into Toyota's lineup of practical family sedans and hybrids, it's news that enthusiasts should welcome.

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