“Stunning” New Toyota Concept May Be Next-Generation Avalon

Sneak peek signals NY Auto Show preview.

by on Mar.28, 2012

Will this be the next-gen Toyota Avalon?

“Passion” is a word that Toyota CEO – and founding family heir – Akio Toyoda talks a lot about.  It’s something he readily admits Toyota products don’t have enough of it, and that in today’s competitive market it’s something the brand desperately needs.

Clearly, the oft-maligned styling of the latest Toyota Camry didn’t deliver, despite a last-minute styling tweak intended to satisfy near-mutinous dealers.  Last year’s launch of the new Lexus GS and the recent unveiling of the LF-LC concept hint that Toyota product developers are taking the mandate seriously.  Or so we may see with the planned NY Auto Show preview of what the Japanese maker is calling a “stunning U.S.-designed sedan.”

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The maker clearly considers the launch significant, providing this teaser shot a week ahead of the big event at New York’s Jacob Javits Center.  Meanwhile, spy shots are popping up and from the industry scuttlebutt it appears that what we see here is going to soon reappear as the next-generation Toyota Avalon.

Toyota isn’t saying much.  It’s release refers to the concepts, “exciting new design features an elegant yet athletic look.”

It’s clearly signaling a big change for a company that took pride in a traditional approach to styling that can only be described as “plain vanilla.”  Toyota cars were designed almost like appliances, something that fit its reputation for bullet-proof reliability.

But that is no longer quite true, stresses analyst Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting.  The maker has been slammed by a series of safety scandals, including problems with so-called unintended acceleration that resulted in a series of record fines from U.S. safety regulators.  It topped the American recall list in 2009 and 2010 and would have again last year if not for a series of problems at Honda.

Coming out of last year’s earthquake-related production cuts, Toyota is showing that it still has plenty of loyalists who were willing to wait for its factories to get working again, but recent industry data show that while the maker is winning back previous owners it is losing its ability to conquest customers from other brands.

That’s all the more the case as overall industry quality continues to rise.  Korean makers Hyundai and Kia are taking direct aim at the Japanese giant, and Toyota insiders haven’t disguised their concerns about a resurgent Detroit – especially when asked about products like the high-style, next-generation Ford Fusion.

The response to last year’s Camry appears to have cemented Toyota’s determination to make a change in its styling strategy.  As the maker’s top U.S. executive, Jim Lentz, acknowledged during an interview with TheDetroitBureau.com last October, dealers gave the original 2012 Camry a thumbs-down when they first got a look at it 18 months before introduction.

“They were not thrilled,” Lentz revealed.  “They wanted an extra 10%,” forcing Toyota to go back and make a number of exterior and interior changes before the official public introduction.

What’s intriguing about the concept coming to the 2012 NY Auto Show is that it will be a large car, a segment that has traditional been one of the market’s most sedate.  But times have changed.  Hyundai recently revealed a very stylish new Azera, and Chrysler got kudos for the redesigned 300 sedan.  Meanwhile, Ford will be in NY with an updated Taurus, as will Chevrolet with the 2014 Impala.

The Toyota rendering – and the spy shots we’ve seen – suggest the new Toyota model could be even more expressive, adopting a coupe-like sedan shape pioneered by the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the Volkswagen CC, and now with the Audi A7 and BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe.

One other thing we’ll be looking for in New York is the name bolted onto the back of the new model.  To make a clean break with its past, some sources suggest Toyota will come up with an all-new nameplate for the big sedan.  But considering the value of a well-known name, Avalon could still live on – but in a very different skin.

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