It’s certainly hard to tell from its exterior—or just about any other aspect of the car—but the launch of the all-new 2012 Toyota Camry truly marks a watershed event for its automaker. This mid-size sedan has been the best-selling car in America for 13 out of the last 14 years almost in spite of itself, and this year, even after the double-barreled blast of misfortunes from the Toyota Recallathon and the spring disasters in Japan, the Camry looks set to continue its run. Another factor that should help the new Camry is the pricing which has been announced for the 2012 line-up, which will go on sale in October. In a marketplace that’s been seeing historically high transaction prices throughout the summer, every four-cylinder Camry, including the hybrid models, will receive a price cut for the 2012 model year of up to $2,000 depending on the model.
So now, in addition to the usual brand momentum and typically Toyota package offered by the fresh Camry, it will also boast one of the most reliable sales boosters in the industry—a low price.
This isn’t to say the 2012 Camry isn’t competitive on other levels, because it is. Those four-cylinder models will net a new benchmark for gas-only fuel efficiency in the mid-size segment by posting an EPA line of 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway/28 mpg combined. That’s about 2 mpg better in each measure than the rest of the mainstreamers; the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima can match the new Camry on the highway, but their 22 mpg marks in city driving pull down their EPA combined ratings to 26 mpg.
The Camry’s fuel-efficiency even approaches that of the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco, capable of 26/38 with GM’s eAssist light-electrification setup, and as I implied above, you can be sure the Camry will be notably less expensive than its Bow-tie rival.
Also worth pointing out is that Toyota was able to raise power outputs at the same time, adding 9 hp and 3 lb.-ft. of torque to the lineup’s volume leader, the Camry LE—now capable of 178 hp and 170 lb.-ft.
Getting to the nitty-gritty here, the prices and price reductions of the 2012 Camry four-cylinder models are: the high-volume Camry LE is $22,500, down $200; the sporty Camry SE comes in at $23,000, down $965; Camry XLE, the highest grade, drops $2,000 to $24,725; the LE Hybrid will start at $25,900, down $1,150; and, finally, the XLE Hybrid (shown here) will start at $27,400 after a decrease in price by $800.
To give you an idea of what this means to customers, the Camry LE, which is the first level above the base stripper car, will be $595 less than the second-level Sonata and $330 less than the corresponding Ford Fusion. Peeking at prices on the hybrids, the Camry will undercut the Fusion by a whopping $2,700, and be just $105 more than the Sonata while delivering better fuel efficiency, too.
Plus, at least according to Toyota, the Camry’s price cuts were implemented without cutting content. For those curious about the V-6 Camry models, their prices stay unchanged for 2012.
Clearly, Toyota has made a radical change in how it approaches one of the most important segments in the U.S. marketplace, and there’s no reason to think the company won’t do the same in other segments if/when the strategy proves successful among the mid-sizers. This comes at a perfect time for Toyota, because, as I might have discussed once or twice before, two of the industry’s former mass-market brands, Chevrolet and Ford, continue to move their offerings further and further up market, leaving a significant, volume-growing opportunity for the automaker that fills their slots with affordable, basic transportation appliances. The Camry has long been the epitome of this type of vehicle, but now, with a price that better matches its excitement level, Toyota sales should really start cooking.