Sunday, May 6, 2018

Toyota Aims to Boost Performance Cred of the Camry—Yes, You Read That Right

Toyota Camry rally car
Photo: Toyota media website.
In the midst of high-profile recent announcements of GM and Ford phasing out storied sedan models like Impala and Taurus, Toyota is focusing on boosting the performance cred of what has, historically, been denigrated by auto enthusiasts as perhaps the most infamous example of an unexciting grocery-getter by entering three Toyota Camrys in a challenging 3,657 mile rally.

Three teams of engineers from Toyota’s manufacturing plants in Indiana, and West Virginia and its Production Engineering & Manufacturing Center (PEMC) in Georgetown, Kentucky, are putting three trim levels of the re-designed Camry (XSE, SE and hybrid) through their paces in the 2018 Tire Rack One Lap of America May 5–12. 

A 2017 Prius—a model that suffers perhaps even worse criticism in the car-guy and car-gal crowd— will also participate.

“We were doing track testing just a few days ago with the Camry Hybrid,” said Toyota Indiana engineer James Nichols. “It was met with humor by other drivers in the paddock, but, when we started passing cars on the track, the atmosphere changed. I think we’re going to surprise some people out there.”

Successor to the legendary Cannonball Run of the early 1970s, the Tire Rack One Lap of America takes place over eight days on seven legendary road courses covering 3,675-miles. The race starts and ends in South Bend, Indiana, and this year will stop at the following race courses:
  • Autobahn Country Club, Joliet, Illinois (May 5)                           
  • Gateway Motorsports Park, St. Louis (May 6)             
  • Hallett Motor Racing, Tulsa, Oklahoma (May 7)                             
  • High Plains Raceway, Denver (May 8)
  • Motorsports Ranch, Ft. Worth,Texas (May 9)
  • NOLA Motorsports Park, New Orleans (May 10)
  • NCM Motorsports Park, Bowling Green, Kentucky (May 11)
This is the Kentucky team’s fourth year in the One Lap and the first for the Indiana and West Virginia teams. The three teams race under a loose affiliation they call Toyota Engineering Motorsports.

“We truly believe that lessons we learn on the track in vehicle performance, safety, problem solving and teamwork make us better engineers,” said Toyota senior engineering manager Brandon Barach.
The best Toyota finish so far was a second place by the Kentucky team in 2016 in the Sports GT Small Bore class aboard a highly modified 2013 Toyota 86.

Toyota has clearly made a visible effort to add more visual interest to the Camry with its redesign for the 2018 model year. This effort to boost Camry's performance cred, if successful, may signal how the entire industry could pivot the passenger-car format into a new niche, rather than continuing to eliminate sedans from their lineups. 

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