(first posted 10/11/2016) Once upon a time, the Chevrolet Division of General Motors continually served up a line of cars that became the very definition of the American family sedan. For decades, the Chevrolet Impala was always up-to-date but not too avant-garde, comfortable, reliable, well-priced and wildly popular. Unfortunately in the 1980s, GM lost the plot and Chevrolet lost the coveted position as the leader in family cars. By the 1990s, a new victor emerged for practical sedan buyers, still made in America, but this time from a Japanese brand. That’s right, behold the Toyota Camry, America’s family sedan sweetheart, circa 1997. Right in the middle of the domestic new car issue, Automobile Magazine highlighted all the changes to this family favorite.
Toyota was not immune from the cost pressures facing the automobile business in the 1990s. Like so many makers, Toyota needed to figure out how to hold the line on prices while maintaining profit margins. Unlike other manufacturers (hello, GM?), Toyota sought to remove costs through clever engineering in ways that would not impact the customer experience. Rather than cutting corners on materials or re-using out-of-date technology, Toyota worked to simplify the Camry’s parts and streamline manufacturing so that it cost less to build.
When it came to safety features for the new 1997 Camry, Toyota did not scrimp. In spite of lighter weight, the car was stronger and could meet or exceed all possible crash test requirements. ABS brakes became standard on most models.
In addition to investing in safety, Toyota also focused on livability. The newest Camry was roomier than before, redesigned seats were more comfortable than before, the ergonomically sound instrument panel was easier to see and use. Plus, there were plenty of the little features that meant a lot in daily life, like convenient storage for sunglasses and abundant cupholders. Nor did Toyota ignore the powertrain: both 4-cylinder and V6 engines offered more power and better fuel economy.
The 1997 Camry was new and improved in most ways compared to its well-received predecessor. Nothing was revolutionary, just steady enhancements that made getting a new car seem worthwhile. For years, that approach had served Chevrolet brilliantly, and Toyota was more than happy to copy the playbook. The shocker, of course, was that Chevrolet seemingly forgot the playbook entirely, and spent the 1990s cranking out mediocre, under-developed family cars, replete with yesterday’s technology and poor quality materials. Little wonder that the Camry became America’s sweetheart, and the best selling car in America for 1997, with 394,397 of “Toyota’s Impala” finding homes.
Does anybody really think this Camry was an improvement on the previous?
With the exception of the new design similar to the smaller 1998-02 Corolla, not really much since it was still using the ancient chassis from the 1987 through 1996 vintage. The 2002 and later including the current Camry were improvements since the platform was all new back on 2002 even though that’s becoming really ancient as well since the 2017 Camry still used the same platform dating 15 years old.
Yes, Toyota does the same things as GM used to do. Old outdated platforms, utterly forgettable vehicles seemingly all designed and tuned for the geriatric set.
The big difference being they got reliability right.
Yes they are doing what GM did in the 90s but there is no one to stop them.
Like GM, from the 90s on, Toyota has a problem. They are no longer able to charge a premium. Overcapacity and a big helping of economic decline have seen to that. GMs biggest mess-ups are where they pour money in to a project with no return. Slow refinement and cost control are really the only answer.
Yes, John, Toyota has definitely gone the way of GM since the 90s. The fact that they have been the most profitable (and have the highest market value) for the past 30 years or so is pure illusion, the result of deception, PR, and cooking their books. In reality, Toyota went bankrupt back in 2009 or so, and was bailed out by the Japanese government, but there’s been a massive cover-up. And a very effective one. It’s time for the truth to come out, though.
And yes, Toyota has been struggling with cost control for seemingly forever; it’s been the major obstacle to success. They really need to get a handle on that, or they’ll go bankrupt a second time.
I never said it was bailed out. That conspiracy theory came from your ass not mine. I said it has patiently practiced slow refinement and cost control. In other words Toyota has been prudent. It was a complement to Toyota. I know you have this view that Toyota good and GM bad, but the two companies faced the same problem with overcapacity and economic decline.
Maybe I misinterpreted your comment. I’ve noticed that’s happened once or twice before; they’re not always quite clear as written.
Nevertheless, Toytoa did not have an overcapacity problem, except perhaps in the depths of the last recession. T is pretty conservative about that. Frankly, it’s problems have hardly ever been similar to GM’s.
Let me illustrate the issue Toyota has worked through about no longer being able to charge a premium. Lets compare base prices with AT/AC/Destination for the Camry and the equivalent size Chevy.
95 Corsica $13595 95 Camry DX $18578 Toyota premium paid 36.7%
97 Malibu $15,995 97 Camry CE $18673 Toyota premium paid 16.7%
16 Malibu LS $23293 16 Camry LE $23805 Toyota premium paid 2.2%
The Chevy has let the price rise with inflation and took the hit on volume. Camry increases are far below inflation and they have done a better job of keeping volume up. In my opinion, a better strategy.
John C. – the difference nowadays with your price comparison is that the Camry will sell much closer to msrp, and will retain value for a much longer period. The SE is quite a competent handler these days…
The wide body model got a new chassis in 90 it wasnt released until Beta testing was done and the world got to see it in 92 with a redesigned engine lower final drive and slightly decontented from the first cars, the first model could do 140+mph but that wasnt needed so the top end was lowered and fuel consumption improved. the 97 rides on that platform not the 87 version.
Having had both a ’92 and ’97 Camry in the driveway (don’t revoke my car guy card, they belonged to my now former wife), I can tell you that the ’97 felt cheaper from day one, before I had even heard the term “decontenting.” Some of the changes they made seemed silly. The one that bugged me the most was eliminating the mist function from the wipers. They also eliminated the switch that toggled between normal and “sport” shifting on the auto transmission, although to be fair it was hard to tell the difference between the two modes.
The article refers to various changes that the customer wouldn’t see that were allegedly for the better — although one sounds like it involved removing metal from inside the bumpers, and I wonder if that helped give rise to the famous “Camry Dents” phenomenon (look the term up, it’s a thing as they say). Also, in my memory the engine sludging complaints really took off with the 97-2000 generation as opposed to the 92-96.
What is interesting is that the also new for 1997 Malibu beat out the new 1997 Camry for Motor Trend Coty award. I know that doesn’t mean much today but it did mean that the editors must have found more to like in the new Chevy vs the new Toyota when the score cards came out reliability aside. I remember test driving both when new and coming away a bit more impressed with the Chevy’s ride/handling characteristics but finding the 3100 V6 no match for the silky 3.0 V6 in the Camry.
Was the Camry nominated, or was it for Import COTY? Shortly after ’97, MT merged Import and Domestic COTY.
even with the dependability and great rep the Camry has/have. This model was my least favorite in terms of design language. It felt like an old car design, made to look new. The rear end and tail lights were bland, boring and cheap looking. The overall car was about as nice to look at as paint drying.
I thought it was so sub par, especially coming off the incredible flawless executed designed 1992-1996 Camry that everyone loved. Think of the back tail lights of say a 95 Camry and compare to this 97′ model. You would think the 95 Model was the newer fresher Camry.
Just my two cents.
Ah the Rubbermaid Camry. Such a let down compared to the previous generation. Totally typifies the 90s.
I wonder if Jan, the Toyota TV pitchwoman drives one.
Only in the commercial perhaps pretending to drive one the current Camry BTW.
I vividly remember doing the brakes on all 4 corners of a good friends 2001 Camry XLE V6 which is the same basic car as the 1997 design before the 2002 style came out. It had about 60K miles and the rotors were warped badly. After the brakes we took the car for a good long ride to wear in the new pads and rotors. The first two things that stuck out were the near dead silence of the V6 engine and the sloppy vague handling. Even with more than half of the tread on the tires they squealed really bad the moment you tried to take a corner at more than 20 MPH. This car handled worse than any Buick!
With it’s beige interior, plasti-wood interior, forgettable driving experience and quiet engine it became the replacement for many former Olds and Buick owners and one drive in this car brought me right back to that test drive back in 1997. Say what you will about the 1995-2001 generation Lumina sedans but my 1996 LS handled and drove light years better.
Toyota had different suspension tune and steering racks for different markets NZ was lucky the quick rack and stiffest shox came here on local assembly models and to see the difference we also had exJDM Camrys with the full mush comfort tuning the US had YMMV depending on where you bought your Camry.
Aussie got the good on centre steering and mid range shox to suit their roads.
My cousin described a recent rental Camry hired in Tasmania as a washing machine with similar handling, not quite awful but close.
I liked the look of the previous version – this one looks like it could be a Nissan (Altima). It was nice that you could get a 5-speed. I had just started working as an engineer full time, and could not swing a new car. They were very popular, both with buyers and car thieves.
This was IMO the last great generation of the Toyota Camry’s and I can see why these were selling like hotcakes.
Although it seems to be common knowledge that the previous generation was a better built car, I always preferred the styling on these. A relative owned one and it gave her very good service.
Ah, another Camry article – time for us in Europe to sit back, relax and consign ourselves to the fact that (despite all of the efforts of the posters here) we still don’t get it.
lol there are plenty of us who don’t get it either. Cars like this are why our Millennials don’t like cars.
We do like cars–well, some of us. What we don’t like is other generations slamming us for not liking the same cars they like.
Young folks in general are not into cars as much as the generation before. A root cause is growing up in the characterless cars of the 90s. This Camry is an excellent example. Prius continued that and here we are. I was slamming Toyota and the industry not your generation, that wouldn’t even make sense.
I don’t know about that. I don’t think that the volume cars of the mid 70’s were anything to write home about. Mostly boring, underpowered, AND unreliable to boot compared to the cars of the mid 90’s. Plenty of us whose early car memories were forged in the 70’s are completely into cars these days. Same with those of us in the 90’s.
A mid 90’s Camry is hardly lacking in character compared to a mid 70’s Volare or Granada or Hornet of the time (i.e. neither had much when new). Sure, they all have/had their fans but pictures of them weren’t exactly adorning anyone’s bedroom walls.
70’s Mustang vs 90s Mustang
70’s Granada vs 90’s Taurus
70’s VW Bug vs 90’s Golf/Jetta
70’s Econoline vs 90’s Econoline – oh, never mind on that one 🙂
I believe the landscape in the 70s was more impressive than it was in the 90s. Many factors lead me to feel this way. The constant reinventing to deal with government regs. New players coming into the market. New categories (personal luxury, small, sport sedan) springing up every few years. Exciting times and exciting cars though there were plenty of duds.
The mix was also a factor in what was observed. Consider how the volume segments of mid-sedan and compact-to-mid crossover dominate the market and your impressions today. And all of those products look the same.
Speciality models like the Camaro and Thunderbird had a huge chunk of the industry back then, I was shocked to see the numbers again in GN’s posts. Those may not have been the best built cars but a kid doesn’t know that. The point is they were impressive. So was a brand new 19 foot station wagon.
When was the last time there was a new category in this industry? Or a successful new OE except for Tesla?
Our market has let itself become dominated by Toyota and there are no strong competitors to shake things up. Hence it has become a dull industry. Young people hate dull.
As for your specific examples, any 90s car will outperform one from the 70s and be more reliable. But I don’t think for a second that the wide-body 90s Mustang was more impressive in its day than a Mustang II. Same goes for the Beetle over a 90s Golf. Not over a ’77 Rabbit though, to my point about the 90s.
The Granada is easiest of all. In 75-76 it was really big news. Everyone was talking about it and saying “it really does look like a Mercedes!”. You heard that constantly and it was fun. The ’90s ovoid Taurus was a bad management call but I admired their intention. After that companies were much more risk adverse which made matters worse.
No one wanting to take chances and a lack of strong competition is bad for any industry.
Yes, Millennials hate cars. Or, more likely, they hate the idea of having to spend $15-20k a year in tuition and front that new car payment at the same time.
“When was the last time there was a new category in this industry”
Hybrids and crossovers certainly don’t come to mind.
Enjoy your Cutlass Supreme, somebody has to…
“Enjoy your Cutlass Supreme, somebody has to…”
LOL people always get a little testy when you win an argument that goes against conventional wisdom. Never said Millennials hate cars, said they were not into them. Big difference.
Prius hit our shores in 2000MY, 17 model years ago. Maybe you missed Brendan’s post today about the 2005 Ford Escape, which he said was late to the party, 12 years ago.
And yeah I (and lots of people) would kill for a mint ’77 Cutlass Supreme 2-door. Don’t see that happening in 2037 for your Camry XLE…
“A mid 90’s Camry is hardly lacking in character compared to a mid 70’s Volare or Granada or Hornet of the time (i.e. neither had much when new).”
It’s apples and oranges comparing the #1 selling ’97 Camry to a ’77 Volare. Comparing it to a ’77 Cutlass Supreme is more fair, #1 versus #1 twenty years later.
The Cutlass was way more impressive than the Camry for a kid growing up in and around the car. The six-foot-long hood and waterfall grille made for a very exciting machine. And they drove so smoothly.
So why is it that the kids growing up in the Cutlass ended up being the generation buying the Camry twenty years later? Maybe not every kid found it that great after all. Most people are not into cars. Most people just want to get where they are going, as easily as possible. The large 2-door coupe was a fad but in the end an interesting footnote. The Camry in the end has had more staying power (34 years now, right?) than the Cutlass and has strayed very little from its original objective and I see no reason to think that it won’t still be around in another 34 years.
A Camry is simply very competent at its job. More so than most of the domestic competition as it rose through the ranks over the years, otherwise it would not have gotten to where it is today. (Somewhat boring, but definitely achieving its objective of value and reliability. I don’t think anyone can honestly say they think it’s a crappy transportation device in objective terms and I don’t think you are saying that anyway).
The “new category” that is taking over the industry is crewcab pickups. A second one is the increasing electrification of cars, be it hybrid or full electric, the next decade will see a huge proliferation in that regard.
Did all you car shoppers in the ’70’s really think the Granada looked like a Mercedes? Had you ever seen a real Mercedes? I am genuinely curious, I was under the impression that the Ford ads proclaiming such were seen as a complete joke from day one.
The “government regs” of today are what is driving the electrification angle. In it’s own way, the feeble first attempts by most makers are somewhat akin to the pathetic results of early smog equipment and their effects on drivability. However, over time, that was mastered and nobody really wants cars to go back to the pre-emission days. Same with Electrics, another decade and the range issue will be solved once and for all (if something like a Volt doesn’t really already pretty much solve the range issue for 80% of honest buyers, especially ones with more than one vehicle in the household). It needs to be offered in different form factors. A Volt Equinox would likely sell very well. Most people simply don’t routinely drive more than 50 miles in one sitting and if they do, then the gas engine takes over.
Besides Tesla recently, the other successful new (to us) OE’s would be the Koreans, they are succeeding much like the Japanese did twenty years earlier. Genre’s like little cube-ish cars (Soul, Xb, CMax, Fit, Bolt) are fairly new and interesting. Performance muscle is back in a big way. CUV’s and SUV’s are popular not just due to traffic and supposed sightlines over and around it, but also due to the horrible state of our roads.
Two-doors and Coupes went away as primary family transportation because it is too difficult to strap a kid in the back seat. In the 70’s that was a non-issue, some of you even survived wrecks. Some others didn’t. Sitting in the back of a 2door coupe sucks, the windows often didn’t don’t go down and you can’t see anything. As a kid (or adult for that matter) I would much rather be in the back of a 4door Golf or an Escape or whatever.
While few may lust over a 1997 Camry in 2017, I don’t recall seeing that many 2-door ’70’s Cutlass Supremes in the late 90’s either. While partially due to inferior production techniques back then, I think a large part of it has to do with people moving on, leaving their rose-tinted glasses behind and embracing progress.
I guess it’s a good thing we have CC, I have no problem reading about a ubiquitous 90’s appliance car just as others prefer reading about the ’70’s top seller. Both are interesting in their own way, as will a Prius be when eventually we write about a First Gen one of those (or do so again?).
“So why is it that the kids growing up in the Cutlass ended up being the generation buying the Camry twenty years later?”
Because in the 90s GM didn’t make anything as impressive as the mid-70s Cutlass Supreme. Not rose colored glasses either. I own, right now, an 80s GM car that was designed in the 70s. Looks great, drives great, has held up well and has tremendous presence.
I wasn’t old enough to drive a new Granada let alone shop for one but do remember the enormous chatter as an impressionable child. Mom drove an old W108 at the time and did not want a Granada but she sure as heck knew what one was. From the brilliant “looks like a Mercedes” marketing campaign. It was tongue and cheek like everything in the 70s, we didn’t take ourselves too seriously back then. Mom has never once mentioned the Camry good or bad, I’m not sure she knows what one is.
This is a long way of saying styling matters, always has always will. Toyota just doesn’t make the effort because they don’t have to.
Take the new Prius which is so hideous you can get them for free, literally. My Uber driver told me he got his for $0 down, 0% interest and $500 above dealer invoice. Yes I know he gave up probably $6,000 in customer/dealer cash to get that financing but you get my point: ugly hurts. Don’t tell me sales of the Prius are off because of low gas prices, they’ve been low for a long time. The previous gen was better looking and sold better end of story.
Agree trucks are exciting these days and would love to own a Ram 1500 Hemi. Not sure I catch your point about crew cabs being a new category. That category hit critical mass around the time of the Avalanche. In the compact class Nissan had one in 2000.
I don’t consider electrification a catagory, maybe in the time when buyers sought them out for some sort of environmentalist fantasy, but just as most car buyers aren’t enthusiasts, just as many aren’t hardcore green vegans. Teslas are case and point, they’re unremarkable as far as what the cars themselves are, a sports car, a big sedan, a CUV and soon a smaller sedan, other electrics like the Leaf or Bolt are basically ordinary hatchbacks that just happen to be electric propelled. This is more like the switch to FWD, and I don’t consider FWD or RWD a catagory all else being equal either, just a selling point.
Also, battery technology is what is making electric propulsion so viable these days, it’s apples and oranges to compare it to emissions controls, and one key factor is electric cars are heavily subsidized by the government to achieve progress, while in the 70s automakers were threatened with heavy fines by the government to achieve progress. It’s very much a new development in the history of the automobile for batteries to be able to store so much for their size and charge as fast as they do, and that’s thanks to the tech boom. Maybe in a conspiracy fantasy the automakers kept electric down (GM killed the electric car? The EV1? The all powerful 1990s GM? HA!), but with the exception of a couple short lived oil price spikes and the sky is falling environmental lobby, there’s been no real business case for it until very recently, with solid existing technology to utilize. But for the majority of the consumer, the promise of autonomous seems to capture their hearts and minds far more than what propels them, not how clean or efficient they promise to be.
Having said that I disagree with the lack of millennial interest in cars, look no further than forums for old 90s cars and you’ll see a whole lot of 20 somethings from their profiles. We can’t afford new cars, and the hard stats to back up the trope that there’s “no interest” are based on new car sales. The fact of the matter is baby boomers and gen Xers had far more affordable “youth” products to choose from than I did, but the entire market still caters to them with their more mature needs. I don’t have back/knee problems, I don’t need total isolation, I don’t have a family needing 4 doors, and don’t own much stuff needing a big cargo area. I know my needs, and with a vast selection to choose from right up until the 90s, there are tons of cars better suited to me than a bloated retro ponycar or a tall 5 door CUV, at way more affordable prices.
I agree with you Matt. It seems to me the industry is still in 90s mode. If they would just go back to what they were doing in the 70s and 80s in terms of pure appeal the young folks would re-engage with interest if not actual purchases. They also need to try as hard on the car side as they do on the truck side.
Older Millennials are pretty old now. A couple of years ago their purchase rate went way up because they moved to an earner lifestage and had more money. I think it went up higher than Gen X at the same age? Not sure there is anything significantly anti-car about this generation. Ball is in the OEs’ courts.
Same thread, same author, two viewpoints, you’ve succeeding in confusing me and I’m forgetting what your argument is. Millenials DO or DON’T like cars?
“Cars like this are why Millennials don’t like cars”
“Older Millennials are pretty old now….Not sure there is anything significantly anti-car about this generation.”
Posted October 11, 2016 at 1:01 PM
lol there are plenty of us who don’t get it either. Cars like this are why our Millennials don’t like cars.
Posted October 11, 2016 at 8:48 PM
Older Millennials are pretty old now. A couple of years ago their purchase rate went way up because they moved to an earner lifestage and had more money. I think it went up higher than Gen X at the same age? Not sure there is anything significantly anti-car about this generation. Ball is in the OEs’ courts.
Millennials DO like cars like young people always have. In surveys, their car interest as mid-teens was lower than for previous generations. That is what I meant by “not into cars” as much, at that age (same meaning as “don’t like”). They were this way because of that Toyota-driven “darkness” growing up, which of course is a relative darkness 🙂
Then when they became old enough to drive and buy USED cars, like 85% of people their age always have, they had those lousy choices compared with previous generations. When they moved to NEW car buying age they behaved more like previous gens.
Never said they hated cars for ruining the environment or anything like that. That said I bet they absolutely love Tesla because wow what a concept an exciting car.
Point: Their environment drove them to indicate a relative lack of interest in cars, at a pre-driving age. It wasn’t something inate to their generation.
Marketing being different than it was has had an effect on things. We aren’t all watching the same commercials on TV. Going to make things harder for players trying to catch up.
I have no interest in getting into a back and forth argument with you, but I do take offense to using a broad brush to paint a whole group of people who don’t share your particular interests. The “millennials” don’t like cars trope is tired as fuck. It’s lazy, doesn’t consider economic factors generations prior never really faced, let alone how their parents have less spending power today. If Millennials aren’t interested in cars, why is it that the most profitable franchise in Universal picture’s history is The Fast and the Furious? As to you criticizing me listing crossovers and hybrids as new vehicle segments being 15-20 years ago, ok fine. I thought we are talking about cars of the 1990s, as you specifically singled out as a root cause. My bad, thinking words have specific meanings.
“LOL people always get a little testy when you win an argument that goes against conventional wisdom.”
Sure. If you say so.
I know it’s tired that’s why I’m saying it’s not the case. What’s tired is Millennials being tired of being talked about. We aren’t talking about you (I’m not), we are talking about the car industry. My judgement is on the industry’s self destructive moves not on an American generation.
I wish I had said to T. Turtle “young people in America (not Millennials per se) are not into cars as much as they used to be, at least not before having the income to afford a new one. Because of dull cars like the Camry and a lack of exciting alternatives to spend time growing in up and buy as used cars.” For once I try to go for brevity and look what happens.
Not because of spending power or any of that crap but because of their dull automotive environment. When it comes time to buy new they buy what’s out there like every generation has. They aren’t making anti- statements by forging a new purchase to punish an industry they hate. That’s how some people were spinning this when the “news” made headlines. “Don’t waste your time on these young folks they are different than in the past; the only thing they will buy is an electric car.” No they aren’t.
Young people hate to be bored. Good luck arguing with that.
I just want to follow up; I think it’s more than fine you like a 70’s Cutlass. I am not one to objectively determine if that is right or wrong. At the same time, its not fair to say someone who likes a 90’s Camry deserves your vitriol. Different strokes, different folks.
I agree with your above statement. I think i misunderstood your original point. This makes me think about a lot of my close friends and their recent automotive transactions. Every single one chooses based off of practicality due to the $ invested. Warranty, the space they may need in the future, whatever… It does seem that the financial outlay dictates so much more than it ever has before.
Sorry to be so confrontational, Calibrick.
My vitriol is directed 100% at Toyota. You make it sound like I said how stupid are the people who buy Camrys. I’m saying what a shame (a missed opportunity for some OE) that there isn’t something available just as reliable, practical and affordable as the Camry but more exciting. Folks can’t buy what doesn’t exist.
Some of the new small-mid Ford products are exciting but then I read that they are not reliable? I don’t really know.
You are right, my tone was certainly unflattering.
As much as I like the new small Fords, style wise, I will never pull the trigger. A new 2001 Focus ZX3 taught me all too well what bait and switch means in real terms…
You are saying that your vitriol is directed at Toyota but the vitriol should really be directed at everybody EXCEPT Toyota. You seem to agree that the Camry is practical, reliable, inexpensive and a good value. It apparently is just missing excitement, visually and/or dynamically.
SO – Why is it that no other manufacturer is able or willing to create and provide that? They have smart people too. They have good or perhaps better designers. They all use the same supplier base for the most part. They all manufacture in the same countries with the essentially identical workforce. Are they not as focused? Too focused on next quarter’s returns? Just bad at what they do? None of that is Toyota’s fault.
So why are they (Toyota) the one to blame here? They are providing something that people seem to want to buy at a price that Toyota is willing to sell it for. It’s there on the pedestal ready to be knocked off by somebody, anybody else. The others are the ones that should be scorned, not Toyota.
Jim you aren’t paying attention we went over all of this. It’s because:
1. Most of the resources and talent have gone into trucks on the domestic side except maybe at Ford. They have highly competitive products from their European ops to draw from.
2. Toyota dominates the bread and butter segments in the US like Corolla and Camry. They don’t try hard and so the competition doesn’t have to. It’s a passive aggressive move that I hate.
Maybe one reason buyers are flocking in droves from sedans to crossovers is because the sedans are so damn boring?
3. Companies are more afraid than ever to take risks. One big investment that doesn’t pan out, plus a recession, and you’re done. They are not looking at the upside opportunity like they used to.
4. One reason for 3 is that the industry has had a lack of car guys in leadership positions. Consider the only bright spot in GN’s 90s posts this week, Chrysler, which had Iacocca, Lutz, Francois Castaing.
it’s too late to rectify things in many places. FCA has given up making their own small-mid sedans. It’s not too late in specialty and luxury, in fact there is tremendous opportunity to apply what went well in the 70s and 80s which was a lot.
2. Toyota dominates the bread and butter segments in the US like Corolla and Camry. They don’t try hard and so the competition doesn’t have to. It’s a passive aggressive move that I hate.
The reason I’m staying out of this debate (with this one exception) is encapsulated in this one quote. If you (Calibrick) had a clue as to how the auto industry really works, you’d realize how utterly clueless this statement is. As well as your other statement blaming Toyota solely for the (perceived) doom and gloom in the industry and the lack of exciting (to you) cars.
Don’t you realize that if your statement were true, that the opportunity to steamroller Toyota would be utterly irresistible, and every other maker would have long done so? If you think that T controls the whole market and sets the standards, and that no one dares to make more exciting and attractive cars, than you are quite delusional.
I’m sorry, but that’s just how your endless baseless arguments strike me. No one who works in the industry or understands it would agree. It’s rather more complicated than your simplistic generalizations. And no, I will not respond any further. I’ve wasted enough time already here. But carry on without me…
Toyota doesn’t lose from this strategy. The domestics don’t either, they’re happy because all of their resources are tied up in trucks. Customers lose. Anyone who says otherwise is complicit in all of this.
No one is going to steamroll Toyota, even though the opportunity exists in certain segments, because the OEs are so damn weak. Yes, in part, from alienating buyers with poor quality back when they had a chance I will admit that.
The danger in playing the game is another downturn or energy shock and all we got going are trucks. This is a big concern anyone working in the domestic industry should have. I’m sorry you and others don’t see it that way.
Toyota made exciting and reliable cars in the 80s that’s what got them to where they are today. No one can legitimately argue that exciting doesn’t matter in our market, not even Toyota fans if they understand the company’s history.
It’s not like they don’t know how or can’t appreciate that it works, to sell a lot of cars at a high price. Why aren’t they doing that now?
Because they can make the same amount of money without large investments (and risks) by playing the game.
And most millennials were probably raised outside the car culture that baby boomers embraced. How many Gen. X or “indie bands” are singing the praises of “Little GTO”, “409” or “Little Deuce Coupe”? Hard to imagine these bands singing about Camrys, Volkswagens, or minivans. Another coming of age rite of passage that went the way of the dinosaur and the nickle cigar.
How about “Rollin in my 5.0” 😉
Phil b, look a bit harder and you’ll find endless car references in rap. From the outset in the 80s through the current day.
Wu-Tang in the 90s had a particularly eclectic taste:
“Dedicated to the winners and the losers
Dedicated to all Jeeps and Land Cruisers
(Can it be that it was all so simple then?)
Dedicated to the Y’s, 850-I’s
Dedicated to n***as who do drive-bys
(Can it be that it was all so simple then?)
Dedicated to the Lexus and the Ac’s
Dedicated to MPV’s: phat!”
” Close like Starsky and Hutch, stick the clutch. Dare I squeeze three at your cherry M-3 ”
A personal favorite:
and on and on and on.
Everything was quiet when I left yesterday but it seems my innocent comment resulted in CC’s equivalent of the Trump-Clinton debate… Actually I was not getting at what caused the heated discussion (millenials’ buying habits?) but at the success of the Camry (and in fact Toyota) in the North American market as a whole, something we here in the EU – despite all the explanations (here and elsewhere) – find puzzling in the extreme. But some mysteries are destined never to be solved.
The fact that you can’t solve the mystery of the Camry probably says more about you than the Camry. It’s really not that hard, actually. 🙂
The Camry is not a North American thing it is a US only thing. Canadians just aren’t that into the Camry. Of course they aren’t that into midsize cars as much as compact cars but even against other midsize cars the Camry isn’t always the winner.
#1 midsize in Canada
2016 Camry is in the lead and should finish #1
So out of the last 10 years they only took the top spot 50% of the time and in some of those years it wasn’t even #2.
If a car takes the top 1, 2, or 3 spot for a decade, and the top spot 50% of the time, in a highly contested field with many valid competitors, I’d probably argue that Canadians are “into” the Camry.
Kind of cool though to see that the Fusion is doing a quite credible job in Canada. It seems like forever since I’ve seen an American nameplate at the top of any car list.
The top spot for cars in Canada has gone to the Civic for many years. Like I said Canadians prefer smaller cars than the Camry. So last year when the Camry was the best selling midsize it only ranked #10 in overall car sales and only sold about 1/4 of the units as that top selling Civic.
Not only do they like smaller cars they are even more into UVs and trucks than the US. Which puts that Camry at 25th overall, being trounced by a lot of compact CUVs.
Total Camry market share ~0.9%
Contrast that with the US where the Camry comes in #1 in car sales and #4 overall.
Total Camry market share ~2.5%
So yeah I’ll stick by the “Canadians just aren’t into the Camry” statement. It really is a significantly different market even though we share a lot of the same vehicles and a love of pickups. You hear some people talking about a midsize sedan deathwatch but in Canada that segment died a long time ago.
If I recall correctly, the best-selling car in Canada has been the Honda Civic.
Working for the biggest Toyota dealer I think I say 2 Camrys sold. Now are you sitting down… Toyota GB came up with the Sport Model of the 2.2. Body kit and bigger alloys…. “Oh we got ours selfs a 5 series competitor”
Ah yes, these were good cars, but exciting they were not, even with the 5-Speed, to Detlump’s point. Even rowing your own gears could not overcome the ponderous handling, rev-hang and lackluster acceleration. I was actually surprised to learn it made it to 60 in 8.7 seconds – I wonder if this was with the V6.
Still, though, they were practical, easy to live with, comfortable and presentable, and served many well for many years (as long as you remembered to change the oil and not overheat them – these were at the nexus of Toyota’s uncharacteristic sludge problem). I still see quite a few on the roads, even here in salty southern Ontario.
Alexis the 8.7 was with a 4cyl automatic, these were surprisingly peppy cars for the time. the V6 would run 7.0 seconds or so to 60.
I owned a ’97 Camry CE with 4 cylinder and automatic. With MPG of 29-31 and 18 gallon gas tank, I could drive over 500 miles between fill ups. Excellent for long distance driving, could hold 4 with plenty of room and comfort, and the best A/C I have ever experienced. No issues with the car what so ever for over 159k miles except the replacement of the timing belt which was done incorrectly by the New Orleans dealership.
Some of the guys above are dishing this version, but some of us appreciate excellence in design and execution. Something so lacking at GM, Ford, and Chrysler during this time period.
Amen. My BIL had a similar CE – when it was 10 years old with 260k miles I used to take it out and run it hard. Like a puppy it wanted to play more. Wasn’t a great handler, but it liked to play.
“The most important car in the world,” said one magazine, meaning that upon Camry’s shoulders rest the weight of Toyota’s entire corporate reputation. The car is a bit over-designed when compared with competitively priced automobiles, yet it is true that the Camry has become synonymous with extreme reliability and durability, good performance and economy, fine residual value in a car that ranks at or near the top each year in the top consumer magazine—and it is not particularly expensive.
Toyota gives it it’s all when designing and producing this product, much like the Honda Accord, and this car always offers superb perennial value-per-dollar in a standard production automobile. The Toyota Camry is hard to beat!
Pictured: 2012 Toyota Camry XLE V6 capable of 35 mpg highway miles!
Nice, but those taillights never have made sense to me. I have never been able to figure out what they were trying to do there.
I am not well acquainted with this car’s apparently legendary predecessor, but I do still see a lot of this generation on the road, and some still look great. It is had to say that about almost any other 1997 car.
Virtually none left in Upstate, NY. Still see loads of Panthers, 90’s B-bodies, A-body’s and H-bodies along with plenty of American trucks.
Says the front bucket seats have been redesigned for more comfort – having never driven any ’90s Toyota were the ’96 models really that bad?
I believe what happened on the seat was this. Toyota went from those two round knobs to adjust the cushion height separately, front and rear, to one adjustment up and down. Great if you like the angle of the seat cushion as it comes from the factory. This clear cost reduction, which did not improve comfort, has become less of an issue as more models have gone to a 6-way power driver’s seat standard or in a popular option package. Are power seats just up and down? No, there’s always a separate tilt front and rear because that is much better.
After owning several Chevrolets through the years I eventually got tired of them constantly breaking down so I bought a Toyota. Haven’t had an issue since then and my Corolla just hit 271000 miles. I get why they’re called General Motors now, it’s generally a motor but it could also function as a paperweight lol. I know there’s probably TONS of people who love their Chevy blah blah blah but I like cars that actually get me to my destination…
I think part of the success of the decontented ’97-up Camrys is that, even with the cost-cutting, from someone coming from certain older domestics, it was still (in the words of Steve Jobs) “‘like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell.”
CJC…this hits the nail on the head. If someone was trading in a first-gen Lumina, this gen of Camry certainly would seem decadently finished by comparison…even though the previous generation had far better carpet!
This Camry was indicative of the Americanization of Toyota in more ways then one. Sadly, as time marches on, this generation becomes more noteworthy as being the first Toyota product clearly designed to a cost, and not a standard, something that’s all too obvious when comparing it with the superb ’96 Camry.
At least none of the cost cutting came at the expense of long-term reliability, which after all is what most people care about. As I do not feel like walking home from work this afternoon, salvation will come in the form of a co-worker’s ’97 Camry LE with 285,000 miles, and many more to come.
Toyota Camry more or less overlaps the GM A-body cars in term of market niche, the mainstream international sized sedan. Avalon is something close to the Impala, as something larger. However, when mainstream sedan has less share from larger GM cars, the whole landscape gets smaller ( taxi cabs, average sedan size etc ) and shift towards SUV is inevitable.
I have plenty of experience with both this model and its predecessor. The previous one (“Lexus Camry”) was a much more solid-feeling car, and the decontenting was evident if you drove them back-to-back. (The all-white gauges of the new one really annoyed me; I liked the old red needles! And don’t get me started on the deleted seat adjustments.)
But having said that, the new one was more than adequate. It isn’t about making the best car, but rather about making the right car at the right time.
Ah the 97-01 Camry. Despite what that car magazine said, this generation of Camry was a big let down from the previous generation(92-96). Just by sitting in one you can witness the cheapness of it. Where as the 92-96 Camry could be considered the baby Lexus, this was a step back.
Indeed this Camry was well known for oil sludging in both the 4 cylinder and V6 versions. Heck there were more cases of sludged up engines in Toyota products then the Chrysler 2.7l engine had. Then Toyota did a very GM like thing, blamed the customer for neglecting the engine by not changing the oil despite having hundreds of documents showing that cars that were taken care of and had regular oil changes at Toyota dealerships were also suffering from sludge. Magically the problem disappeared on these engines after 2002 even though the V6 lasted until 2006 in the Camry.
Of course Toyota replaced the 2.2l with the 2.4l which became known for leaking headgaskets, stripped out headbolts and headbolt holes in the block (because Toyota did not drill the holes deep enough), high oil consumption(amazingly Toyota claims that it is normal if the car uses a qt of oil every 1200 miles (perhaps if the car has over 100,000 miles on it but less then 40,000 miles?????) and this engine eats waterpumps.
Hmmmm….. Dodgy transmissions, cars that accelerate on their own, window motors catching on fire, sludgy engines, high oil consumption, cooling issues, blame the customer for everything because it had to be the owner neglecting the car……… hmmmmmm sounds like GM to me….. oh wait it is Toyota doing this. Well if the shoe fits.
I can’t even remember a mass production car company honoring anything too nicely when something goes wrong. Toyota and Nissan have their share, probably just not entertaining enough though.
Those are all US market problems unknown anywhere else, sounds like the usual propaganda used against something successful.
Add to that warped brake rotors noted by Motor Trend on there long term tester back then. Most elderly folks I knew seemed to have this issue with the 97-01 generation. The Malibu’s of this generation were also bad for this.
As the C&D article suggests, this wasn’t really “decontenting” but designing for efficiency in construction and extraneous parts cost. Explained very clearly. Less is actually more. I admire this approach.
Hardly stripping out valuable features to be able to advertise a low price in the Sunday paper. Hardly designing something then pounding the snot out of suppliers to meet the OEM’s cost/profit projections.
It’s simply intelligent improvement. A product that works as intended. What a frigging concept.
And Chevrolet gave us “The Car You Knew America Could Build”, the 1997 Malibu.
Which approach was more successful ?
There’s nothing at all revolutionary or truly special about these cars, they certainly bore me to a great degree, and I wouldn’t ever want to drive one.
I never raised an eyebrow at the design, but then again that’s something Camrys are supposed to be, and in all honesty, this just might be my favorite Camry design ever, with the possible exception of its predecessor. Bland, but at least in a pleasant way. The 2000 facelift gave it a bit more attractiveness.
That all being said, they were comfortable, safe, and reliable cars, which offered a lot for the money, and cars that I had a lot of experience riding in. My aunt, Kathy, owned two of them, a white 1997 LE and a 2001 bronze-colored LE.
The interior was thoroughly sobering on the eyes, but I recall all surfaces being soft to the touch. These cars were very comfortable riding in, and despite the smaller size, my family always preferred riding in it over my grandfather’s Olds Eighty-Eight due to its better ride quality.
On a safety note, my aunt survived unharmed a run-in with a male deer in her 2001 on I-495 on the way home from a Christmas party late one night. Whole front of the car ahead of the windshield was severely damaged, but it still made it home.
When I was in roughly your phase of life, the 1992 Camry came out and was surprisingly popular with young people coming up, particularly women that probably think in more practical terms than men.
The ’92 Camry (as I’m sure you know from your comments above) ditched the boxy ’80s style of the previous generation, and seemed quite stylish. More than a few people ditched their college era Corollas for one.
The ’97 Car was panned a bit for its conservative style. That, and it’s ubiquitous position on family oriented driveways seemed to kill the Camry as aspirational for a young person. As Paul alluded to, the aspirational job was left to Lexus. But, it always seemed like the Lexus ES ended up in the hands of fortyish something women.
“But, it always seemed like the Lexus ES ended up in the hands of fortyish something women.”
More like sixty-ish. Then again I suppose they were forty-ish when they leased their first one in 1994. That car is the full-size Buick of the modern day…. extremely refined and smooth, but absolutely zero youth factor. When I see someone under 40 driving one I assume it is inherited because I just can’t picture a millenial/Gen Xer going to a car dealership and buying one on their own accord, even an used one. Ditto the RX crossover thing. It’s straight to BMW/Audi/Acura/Infiniti for anyone not wanting the “grandma” stench (not something I give a flip about it, but people buying luxury goods certainly do)
One huge difference between Impala and Camry is that in its heyday the Impala was a style leader that turned heads. The Camry has never done that.
Impalas were definite “style leaders,” but you never knew for sure if you would make it home. The bland Camry would never leave you standing by the side of the road.
I once owned a beautiful 1978 Chevy Caprice Classic station wagon. It was a very comfortable and a quiet car, but one fine day the transmission failed (all but reverse), and I had to drive the car across town “backwards” to get to the local Chevrolet dealership.
My 4Runner left me stranded several times. Just sayin’. Anybody who truly believes any manufacturer is infallible while others do nothing right is a fanboy, period.
Agreed. As someone who worked on quite a few Toyota’s when I moonlighted at the used car lot, they are, in reality, no better or worse than any other car. I have said it before, and I’ve been proven correct many times, Toyota’s “reputation for reliability” was borne more out of the sales department, not the engineering department.
Yes, Toyota’s success in becoming by far the largest and most profitable automaker with a worldwide reputation for reliability was all due to a few clever guys in their sales department. You’d think GM would have hired these salesmen away from them, and for really big bucks. But no, they’re still at Toyota and their deception continues unchecked. One of the greatest con jobs in the history of man. Thanks for pointing it out to us; it’s good to have the truth exposed. You’re a hero, but I do wonder if Toyota sales are going to crumble now that the truth is out.
My Camry left me stranded several times as well. Still a good car, but I was no less stranded with a Camry than I was with a Taurus.
So what exactly happened? Why is Impala no longer a “style leader”? It does not cost any more to stamp a pretty body panel than a boring one.
It isn’t Toyota’s fault that the maker of the Impala gave up and went bland. If anything the Impala has been bland now for longer than it was ever stylish back in its heyday (or at least close) and the bigger problem is that the majority of buyers today think of recent Impala’s and not its rich history. That’s a pox on GM, not Toyota.
I will say though that the Malibu in my mind has pretty much supplanted the Impala of old and is the Camry’s real competition from a size perspective. And I find the current Malibu extremely good looking, much better than the current Impala and better than most of the competition, including Camry of course. Finally, FINALLY, enough time has passed that I could drive a Malibu and not be embarrassed to say I owned one. There were a lot of years (mainly the 90’s and 2000’s) where Malibu was a name with zero cachet, especially on the coasts. Chevy would perhaps have done better to just ditch the name altogether as they are wont to do. Now they just need to ditch that horrendous brass colored plastic emblem. It’s horrific and charging $100 as an option to get a black one (yes that is an option), is pathetic. Just make it a chrome outline and be done with it.
The Automobile World during the past few decades have been going into a lot of flux and fickle where the original “spiritual predecessors” of the lets say both the Impala and Camry were likened to a broken up Family Tree. Remember the original Impala as already known by common knowledge had large car beginnings. The Impala which came in 2000 was actually the replacement for both the mechanically related FWD W-Bodied Lumina and the RWD BOF B-Bodied Impala SS. I wouldn’t really say it replaced the Caprice Classic because its replacement came 15 years later which was the Holden sourced RWD Chevrolet Caprice PPV and it was slightly larger than the otherwise different FWD Impala. The Toyota Camry meanwhile was deeply rooted from its subcompact/compact beginnings when the Toyota Corona was its predecessor from at least the North American Market. Both the Impala and Camry at one time represented different size classes from one extreme to another and thus never competed with one another back then.
Actually “good styling” is hard to do. It takes car guys in powerful leadership positions to make that happen because it does cost money, lots of it. For the right proportions, moving H-points, changing the stance, going to a new platform early, double stamping a panel to give it the right curve, etc. That’s all before pen hits paper. Then you need designers capable of delivering the goods. What if you don’t have those? More money for going outside and then dealing with the strife within the company for doing so.
There were no leaders like this at GM in the 90s. Toyota has some car guys but they are working on Lexus because there they have some competition.
I think proportions and hardpoints are probably the most over used factors for the cause of unattractive styling – cowl height, overhangs, dash to axle ratio, blah blah blah. I can name countless cars with all of those in excess that are stunners. Good design can work around these points, but the problem is it often comes at the cost of utility, practicality, aerodynamics and spec sheet fodder. When people come to the defense of Roger smith era GM or Chrysler K cars, invariably they’ll cite regulation and FWD proportions as the root cause, but frankly they must be looking at them from inside a vacuum. Europe could make transverse FWD cars of identical proportions without looking stubby and misshapen in the same time(and before), and Ford got it exactly right with the Taurus too, hell it appeared better proportioned than the LTD it replaced!
Unattractive styling = uncreative styling. We’re two decades deep of cars emulating the same styling themes, there’s been very little revolution like the Sheer look or the Aero look since the Jellybean look took hold. Even The flame surfacing Bangle trend hasn’t changed things that much, really that was details at best, while the rest of the cars are still as soft edged and shaped by wind today as they were in 1997. Maybe it’s the Camry’s fault in that it’s success is perceived by other manufacturers that it’s anonymous styling is the key and there’s no need to shake up success, or maybe it’s just that car styling encountered the law of diminishing returns, where the only progress that can possibly occur is either in tiny refinements and insipid or gross efforts to stand out from the herd, or regression.
The two door bodystyle however provided a hell of a greater degree of original styling though. The absence has essentially left the 4 door sedan as style leaders, and no matter how arched the roofline is and how “grand” marketers think they are to christen them as “coupes”, there’s only a few ways to make them look distinctive, and in some extreme cases the convenience of 4 doors is almost rendered moot with poor headroom and uncomfortable ingress/egress.
“We’re two decades deep of cars emulating the same styling themes, there’s been very little revolution like the Sheer look or the Aero look since the Jellybean look took hold.”
So damn true. I do think you are selling short the benefits of going to a new platform when one is overdue. The new Civic 4-door is a knock-out that would not have been possible with a carryover platform.
Audi’s front overhang on their platform, which was designed to be FWD, was becoming such a challenge to hide that they re-engineered their transmissions to shorten things up. Huge investment.
The reality is platforms are being carried-over longer than ever locking in the lower part of the car. Then there are government regs that drive thick pillars for rollover, sleek shapes to cheat wind and deliver the required MPG. That locks in the upper.
So manufacturers are left to play with the front end and contours of the sides.
A myth that drives me nuts is that cars can never again have slim pillars, lots of glass or a more boxy shape. Sure they can just takes money and the willingness to take a chance. There are ways to make those pillars thin, strong and safe. Might require more/better airbags for example. A less slippery shape may require a trade-off in performance (or more cost) to get to the desired MPG.
Probably not a good strategy for mass market models but why isn’t Lincoln working on this and looking to the 70s for inspiration? The memory of the ’93 Taurus must hang heavy in the halls of Ford.
Well, rap/hip hop has been popular now for how many decades? And are appliances that different from 1997? How about fashions? How much have they really changed?
In case you haven’t gotten the memo, we’re living in a post-modern world. If you’re expecting major new stylistic trends like the 50s or 60s to re-appear every few years, goof luck!
Really, good luck Paul? The passenger car / truck designs that have worked best for domestic manufacturers in recent years have been these…
* Ford Mustang
* Chevy Camaro
* Dodge Challenger
* Dodge Charger
* Chrysler 300C
* Jeep off-road models
* F/S trucks
… which harken back to the most impressive period in US style. Don’t confuse that with me saying the quality was good back then.
FCA isn’t going to build their own mid-sedans any more, that’s how hard it is to compete with styling like everyone else. Darts will be Mitsubishis or something. That’s going to make things real nice for kids of the Millennials.
And forget something like a modern RWD sport sedan off of the Mustang platform. If that were to succeed you could bet in a year there would be a Toyota-badged Lexus IS350 for $3,000 less and you’re done. It’s too late now!
The only hope for domestic brands in the luxury end is to bring back the the magic of the 60s and 70s like that list of products from above. What is taking so damn long? Online Toyota love isn’t helping guys.
The beauty about coming up with a modern yet reminiscent Lincoln is that Toyota can’t copy it. Just like they can’t with the Mustang. Doesn’t the Rolls Phantom look modern and at the same time like a classic Rolls? How hard is this?
We need a ’70s Cadillac Seville from Lincoln. GM needs to do a gen 2 revival for the next Camaro.
avatar Paul Niedermeyer
Posted October 12, 2016 at 1:11 PM
Well, rap/hip hop has been popular now for how many decades? And are appliances that different from 1997? How about fashions? How much have they really changed?
In case you haven’t gotten the memo, we’re living in a post-modern world. If you’re expecting major new stylistic trends like the 50s or 60s to re-appear every few years, goof luck!
To answer your first question, two decades too many! lol As for fashion 20 years ago baggy jeans were popular, today skinny jeans are popular, there’s been plenty of more noticeable shifts in pop culture and fashion than there have been in automobile design since 1997, which has largely been refinement under the skin.
And the Impala’s of the 50’s and 60’s are highly collectable today, especially in coupe form with the big block engines. Camry’s and most any other 90’s mid size will end up in a crusher and recycled into a shiny new Kia.
Road cockroaches, and just as hard to kill. Never, ever pick the lane behind these at
I know a guy with one of these….a ’97 model…..nearing 300k miles, so they must have done something right. I rode it it once and what I noticed was the lack of any squeaks or rattles and how tight it felt.
The ’99 in our family has passed 300,000 miles and is now ready for its FOURTH generation of driver. It leaks, but does not burn oil. No major component has been apart. Everything still works. BTW, this one was assembled in Japan.
This generation Camry is, to me, hands-down, the most American car the Japanese OEMs have ever produced, at least as to style, and my favorite Camry of all time. These have become cockroaches in their own right, as I see many of these every day on the road.
I got a kick out of the stripper models of these called the “American Edition”! Cues from what Chrysler did in the late 1980s!
Interestingly, I felt that the Dodge Intrepid filled the shoes of the non-existent Impala for several years in relation to size and style.
I hate to admit it, but I almost checked out a Camry four years ago when I was considering a new car to replace my 2004 Impala. I just had to buy the final W-body Impala in the end, though.
The naysayers notwithstanding, my ’97 has cranked 236k trouble-free miles requiring little capital outlay other than tires, batteries, drive belts and a set of rear struts. If that’s an anti-car experience, I’ll settle for it.
As bland as it was something about the 97 Camry clicked with a lot of people back then who wanted a reliable, comfortable, economical car that looked good and in 1997 I would say the Camry looked athletic to a degree. Certainly not any worse than some cars of the same era (Oldsmobile).
Those buyers more than likely had bad experiences with their domestic car of the late eighties or early nineties and decided it was time to try a Toyota. Millenials are staying away from new vehicles because of cost, student loan debt, or the lack of a good paying job. Those who are able to buy new remember the problems their parents had with the family domestic car and know that buying German and Japanese is better value for the money (not always said the BMW owner).
“Millennial are staying away from new vehicles because of cost, student loan debt, or the lack of a good paying job.”
I never bought into that and it’s been debunked. As soon as Ms got their first jobs and had money to spend on new cars they bought them at a clip equal to or greater than generations before. Those questions “do you like cars?” got asked to this demo during their mid-teens by market research folks. The relative lack of interest (not purchases) made headlines but wasn’t surprising considering how dull everything had become and new distractions like electronic equipment.
Of course someone in college with a high tuition isn’t going to buy a brand new car, did you? I didn’t have a new car till I was 30. Made due with used Sciroccos. Fiestas and Zs. What kind of used cars did the Ms have to choose from? Old boring stuff from the 90s. It all makes sense when you look at their car environment, as kids and when they were in the market for used.
But these “research findings” paid for by the OEs, didn’t go there. Instead they and the subsequent articles made it sound like Ms were the first generation ever not to buy a brand new car when they were still in school which was a wrong conclusion.
The only meaning to “they aren’t as interested in cars at age 14 as we were” is that the offerings were dull. The speculation on money causing the problem should have waited until they were of car buying age i.e. graduated. Because if they had those articles would have never been written — Ms buy cars at least as much as prior gens.
Big headlines, big distraction, lots of interesting articles, no meaning. MM at its finest.
Methinks thou doth protest too much. Old boring stuff from the ’90’s?
There was p l e n t y of interesting stuff available in the 90’s for Millenials to buy used, take off the blinders. Most are/were very affordable by the 2000’s and especially today. Maybe the US didn’t produce much, but these are some of the interesting imports of the 90’s just off the top of my head, there are plenty more.
Someone like yourself that had Scirocco’s, Fiesta’s and Z’s in your day would likely (15-20 years down the road) be interested in Integra, GTI, and probably Miata (or MR2 or even a newer Z). There has been interesting used stuff available for every generation. If you don’t give the cars on the above list a chance, you’re missing out.
First off many of those models were a shadow of their former selves by the 90s…
* RSX versus Integra
* 90s MR2 versus original
* Mid-late 90s Eclipse versus earlier
On others, new sales were so depressed by the 90s that the low supply drove up prices for used to the point where they were out of reach for young folks…
* Mazda RX7 — good luck finding an affordable one of those
* Toyota Supra — ditto
* Honda Prelude — ditto
Now cross off the cars that by the 90s had become too complex and expensive to repair for a young person on a budget…
* Audi A4
* 300ZX — good grief a twin turbo!
* BMW 3-series
That leaves basically the Miata, GTI and some of the early 90s Nissan products.
What lead to this dearth of interesting cars in the 90s? The shift of resources and sales over to trucks. I don’t think many 16-year-old girls dream at night about finally owning a ’97 Expedition.
Not sure if it is a trend or not but I saw a group of modified ’90s Lexus LS sedans driving around town last Saturday. The cars looked and sounded great. If I see them again I’m going to take pics, talk to the guys and write it up as an article.
It’s obvious that calibrick can simply not be wrong in his mind, and it’s pointless to argue.
It’s mostly a money issue, plain and simple. I’m a millennial and a huge car-nut, earning a very good engineering salary, but I drive a pair of paid-off twenty year old Toyota products. Gone are the days of steady and stable employment, even at large companies. I did have a few Chem-E friends that went and bought new/lightly used fun cars upon graduation or shortly thereafter (WRX, BMW 3 Series, a used Audi S5 even). There’s some young-guy driven GTIs and Focus STs in the parking lot at work. Many less fortunate millennials are in no position to buy new-ish cars anyways.
i think you overestimate the general population’s inclinations towards ‘fun’ car ownership in general. Historically, it’s always been an A-B thing for many (most?) people, with a bit of badge prestige thrown in for those that could afford it or really wanted it.
I doubt many teenage girls were sitting around in 1997 dreaming of finally scoring a 1977 Cutlass Supreme either. I know the mid-to-late 20-something’s I was hanging out with at the time certainly weren’t.
Second gen Integra was introduced in 1990 and went half the decade, hardly a “shadow of its former self”m, then the bug-eyed third gen was later in the decade. (RSX was intro’d in 2002).
90’s MR2 came in turbo or regular versions, extremely good styling, very reliable, handling issues corrected by 1992.
Early Eclipse/Talon etc had the first generation in the early 90’s. Didn’t really lose its plot until much later.
There were plenty of 2nd gen RX7’s produced in the early 90’s and started with steep depreciation curves. Same with Supra. Ditto Prelude. Late Supra’s and 3rd gen RX7’s are the only ones with any “real” following these days and commanding relatively large sums of money. You are correct that the recession in 1991 didn’t help the RX7/Supra/300ZX sales any.
Nice cherrypick on the 300ZX “turbo”. They did sell most of them withOUT turbo. Nothing too complex about a V6 mostly shared with a Maxima.
A4 and 3-series might not be cheap to repair but there are still plenty of those generations driving around even today, so someone was/is taking care of them.
It’s Ok though, I get it, no need to respond. You clearly made your point that there was basically nothing used or interesting worth looking at in the 90’s for a Millenial looking in the 2000’s. The only thing available for anyone to purchase was a Camry and that’s what led to the rise of the SmartPhone today instead of interesting cars.
OK fine the decline in those products was timed more in the late-90s / early 00s. Makes my argument even stronger because used cars for Millennials would have been sourced more out of that period.
I would add that yen appreciation during this time drove up prices of 300ZXs and Supras which lowered their sales, it wasn’t just the recession.
As much as I love the Z32 it is not an easy car to work on. And its engine isn’t the VQ DOHC it’s the VG DOHC which was more complex and physically large. Cram that under the hood of a Z32 and things get real hot real fast. Hot not good for longevity.
I didn’t like my ’78 280Z very much but the engine was literally swimming in the engine compartment and very easy to work on. People like to laugh at long hoods but there are benefits beyond just looks.
I meant to add earlier that Subaru WRX was a tremendous bright spot during this dark period and look where that brand is today. Does this point register with you in any way?
WRX? Sure, but it wasn’t introduced into the US market until the 2001 model year, I thought your focus from all your other comments mid-1990’s machinery available in the US market.
The WRX certainly did a lot for Subaru and was a great car/value. Subaru is doing very well today in the US but most of the volume is on the back of the Outback, first intro’d in 1994. WRX in my opinion has done little to steer people into Outbacks, especially not the most recent two generations and the WRX does not seem to be as popular as it used to be. If Subaru would reintroduce a Turbo Outback or a much more sports-oriented version, they would probably sell even better but since they have no problem selling every one they build and have capacity constraints I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Heck, even more than the Camry and Toyota in general that you are lambasting, Subaru and the Outback is a case of an automaker being able to rest on its laurels. I had a 2014 Outback and am a big fan but really, Subaru is generally at least a generation or even two behind the cutting edge in its technology, engines, and materials.
I already adjusted my time period at your request, yes let’s use the late-90s / early-00s for the Millennial used car buying discussion. That doesn’t in any way hurt my argument that the 90s was a dark decade, to quote many other posters here. That darkness surrounded the Millennials growing up.
What made Subaru stand out was their unique flat-4 engine. That built the fan base. An extra effort that few companies make these days because they don’t think the market would appreciate it (misinterpretation of Millennial research) or are afraid to take the chance (because of Toyota). That’s the point.
t’s obvious that calibrick can simply not be wrong in his mind, and it’s pointless to argue.
Yup, and I learned that quite a while ago. Don’t get him started on the deceptive big-block-like output of the Olds 307! 🙂
“I already adjusted my time period at your request, yes let’s use the late-90s / early-00s for the Millennial used car buying discussion.”
My request? Oooo-kay, don’t recall that. I’ve been talking early to mid 90’s cars all along, you started throwing in the post-2000 stuff. The newest car I spoke of was the A4, intro’d in 1995 for MY96.
“That darkness surrounded the Millennials growing up.”
That’s gold, Jerry, GOLD! That is the funniest thing I’ve seen on here in some time…Sally Struthers is going to have new subject matter for infomercials. Just $10 a week will provide a cherry Cutlass for every Millennial. Won’t you give? Don’t let them stay in the darkness…
“What made Subaru stand out was their unique flat-4 engine. That built the fan base.”
Uh, no. First of all, it wasn’t unique nor was Subaru the first to have a flat-4. For a while starting in the 90’s they were the only ones offering one but now once again there is another one on the market (different segment though).
What made Subaru stand out and elevated them to their current position in the U.S. is A) Standard and mandatory AWD on every car (except the very recent BRZ) for the last couple of decades and B) Brilliant marketing that gives people the warm fuzzies and makes them hug their kids while hiking in the wilderness.
Ask the next ten people you see to tell you one thing about Subaru from a technical viewpoint. Dollars to donuts that about 7 mention AWD, 2 mention Safety and one (likely the kid with the backwards flat brim ballcap) mentions the flat-4. The flat-4 is irrelevant to 90% of the sales that Subaru has. AWD, on the other hand, is required for about the same 90% of the sales. If a flat-4 was that big of a deal, why are the majority of Subaru sales in wet or snowy climates? I’ll bet at least half of all current Subaru owners don’t know they have a flat-4 or at least couldn’t tell you the difference between a flat, V or inline 4 format. They didn’t buy the car for the flat-4, which, if nothing else, is generally harder and more expensive to maintain and repair than an inline.
Yes, they also offer a flat-6 (along with one other maker) but most buyers of that would likely rather have a turbocharged engine and get the 6 only because it is more powerful than the flat 4, which is hardly cutting edge and has fairly weak output figures for its size compared to the non-flat-4 competition. All that and I’m a Subaru fan.
“For a while starting in the 90’s they were the only ones offering one but now once again there is another one on the market (different segment though).”
Jim are you talking about the new Porsche flat-4? Something tells me that isn’t going to be a negative for Subaru.
Yes, Boxster/Cayman. But the flat four is basically irrelevant for Subaru. The AWD and Safety arguments along with their marketing messages are what is making them successful, not the engine configuration.
Nobody cares or for the most part even realizes there is anything different about the engine and those that do know realize that it’s the least competitive part of the entire package as compared to competitive offerings from other makers.
It’s great that it has a low center of gravity….but irrelevant on a car that has higher ground clearance than most CUV’s and several SUV’s and is rarely, if ever, driven in a way as to benefit from it.
So you’re saying if Subaru dropped their flat-4s and replaced them with inline-4s everything would be fine. I don’t agree.
If “nobody cares” about engine configuration why is Mercedes thinking of bringing back an inline-6?
I don’t particularly care if you agree with me or not but I don’t appreciate you putting putting words in my mouth. I said that nobody cares what config is in their SUBARU and it would not be relevant to 90% of SUBARU’s purchasers if their engine was flat or inline or V. The flat four is not at all what is driving Subaru’s sales success.
To your other argument, I have no idea why Mercedes is thinking of bringing back an inline 6, I’m sure they have their reasons. Maybe they think they will sell more cars that way. I do note that I don’t see Mercedes going to a flat-four even though somewhere in Stuttgart they probably have an engineer or two that has the chops to design one. Presumably if they thought it was the best thing ever they would find a way to offer one as well, they certainly have the resources. What was your whole point again?
Point is I wanted to confirm if I had your understanding correct, that you think nothing bad would come from Subaru replacing their flat-4 with an inline-4. From your comment below your answer is yes. Thank you. Again I don’t agree.
Brands need to stand out to be successful. This requires the right hardware to support the image you want to project, whether it be better-than-the-rest engineering or safety. But safety is tough these days because there is parity in the industry. Just ask Volvo.
Like it or not there is also parity in AWD technology. Even if Subaru’s was slightly more advanced do you think that would matter to buyers but not a different engine? One with a layout that contributes to better, safer handling? They couldn’t explain that benefit, with an engine they can physically point to, but can how their AWD software performs better than the rest? Don’t think so.
An inline-4 Outback wouldn’t need to be made by Subaru. There would be no difference between that and a CUV sourced from Mazda / Toyota / Nissan and slapping the Subaru name and skin on it. We know how that ends up — Olds, Pontiac, Plymouth.
“I said that nobody cares what config is in their SUBARU and it would not be relevant to 90% of SUBARU’s purchasers if their engine was flat or inline or V.”
“Brands need to stand out to be successful. This requires the right hardware to support the image you want to project, whether it be better-than-the-rest engineering or safety.”
I like how you (perhaps unintentionally) brought it full circle (back) to the original subject of the article – Toyota. Your entire original point was that Toyota is utterly boring and doesn’t stand out in any way. Yet Toyota has been and continues to be extremely successful.
This is the perfect way to end the discussion. In the US, cars like the Corolla and Camry only stand out for their excellent reputation which came from the 80s when Toyota was working its butt off. They killed it in market share improvement and profit. At the same time that enormous and awe inspiring effort, perhaps the greatest ever in the industry, nearly wiped out the competition. A combination of hard work and good timing.
Not just right place right time with reliability and good fuel economy in the 80s. Their cars were super-competive in all areas, and exciting too.
When faced with their next strategy they decided they didn’t need to try as hard because 1. They had that enormous goodwill from their 80s effort and success and 2. The competition was weak.
That is my opinion of course but I believe it is how we can understand the different between Toyota’s success in the US and Europe. Toyota didn’t bludgeon the European competition in the 80s. Part of it too is that maybe US customers have longer memories (i.e. hold grudges longer).
I have no way of knowing but my guess is Toyota wasn’t much of a factor in Europe in the 80s. If so that would explain a lot.
The ’92 Camry story is similar. Make a great car, clean up in share then take a vacation for 20 years. Must be nice.
A modern equivalent to the Chevy Impala of old would more likely be any of the half ton four door pickups on the market today. Impala had wagons in the mix back then too. Before everyone had a truck, it was common to see cars like Impala pulling horse trailers or campers or utility trailers. Most of the family hauling and trailer towing that Impala did years ago is now done by family trucks.
What almost everyone has missed here is that Toyota’s decision to “de-content” the Camry was in part to let the Lexus ES300 become the premium Camry, and to lower the effective sales price of the Camry to be more competitive against the doemstic competition. Camrys were rather pricy in their first two generations, and not price-competitive with the domestics, a relic of the Voluntary Import Restriction era, when the Japanese all went decidedly up-market to increase per-unit transaction price (and profit) since larger volumes were not possible.
That whole strategy, which served T very well, was effectively and finally over in an era where all the Japanese were building plants in the US and needed to shift to a high-volume model.
Needless to say, the strategy was highly effective, as the Camry shot up in sales, became the #1 seller, and has never given it up since. It may not be your cup of T, but the Camry really came into its own starting with this generation, as a mainline competitor instead of one that was a notch higher and thus doomed to be limited in its ability to expand volume.
The prior generation Camry was an anomoly of sorts; very nice quality materials, but really more of a Lexus than a genuine mass-market car. It was not sustainable in an era where everyone was cutting costs in order to compete.
Paul is correct. The 92-96 Camry was not sustainable, it cost too much to make. The point TT and others are making is that the love for the “fat” generation was understandable. It wasn’t just reliable it was like driving a Mercedes. The love for the brand back then was understandable too. Throughout the 80s Toyota products were terrific — reliable and exciting — best line-up in the industry.
What we don’t understand (or can’t accept) is the demand for subsequent Camrys — they are good but not great. Take a look at transaction prices on Camrys since the fat gen. Doesn’t get much ink but Camry has had the lowest price in the Accord, Altima, Sonata, Optima, Fusion class for years.
A winning strategy for a company that has as much power as Toyota. If anyone were to dare under-price them with a car as cheap to make as the Camry Toyota would cut prices and wipe them out.
They got this power by making good cars at a time when the domestics were making bad, or boring ones. Fortunately I’ve heard younger generations are less into brands than the Boomers which may bode well for the industry. I bet Toyota paid for that Millennial market research and spread the results so competitors would throw in the towel when they could have been working on more attractive products and had them in production by now.
At least Honda wasn’t fooled. They are cleaning up with the new Civic 4-door. They make a ton of profit and the market gets a great product. That’s how it is supposed to work.
There was also the Avalon, which had come out a year or two earlier.
My favorite Camry! It’s surreal to think this is a 20-year-old car now. I remember one of my elementary school teachers buying a brand new facelifted 2000 model with the larger clear lens taillights (which was pretty new technology at the time – most cars still had opaque lenses) and it seemed like a really handsome car. I liked that Toyota and Honda maintained such an angular shape in a time when a lot of new sedans were being styled like a NyQuil gel capsule on wheels, which I found really unattractive then and even more so now as old beaters. The 1998 Intrepid/Concorde and 1996 Taurus come to mind. Those were also in every parking lot at the time… and it made the Camry look that much more classy. Most consumers did buy Camrys for logical reasons, but the no-nonsense and decidedly American styling certainly helped propel it to the top. I dare you to find someone that can call this car ugly with a straight face. Bland? Absolutely, but the basic details and proportions are just right, and while it may not turn a lot of people on, it turns almost no one off (besides maybe Internet enthusiasts, which are like 0.0001% of actual new car buyers).
This was the last truly “handsome” Camry – I remember hating the wonky and weirdly proportioned 2002 model when it came out. With the additional height, the base 15-inch wheels looked tiny holding up that enormous rump and the taillights were so huge and clunky. Not to mention the strange grille with the off-center Toyota logo that made the whole front fascia look cross-eyed, and the weird upswept character line on the back doors. I’m desensitized to it now through exposure – it almost looks bland now that every sedan has a big butt and weird unnecessary details! But every time I see a well-kept 97-01 Camry it brings me back to 1st grade and I still appreciate how clean and classy it looks.
I wrote this one a while back. It sums up the Camry anthology quite well.
All the best to the folks here. You have one helluva great site.
A quarter century ago, give or take a year, my brother Paul became the first in the family to drive a Toyota. A 1984 Toyota Celica-Supra. It was a true shifting of gears for the Lang Gang. Everyone up to that time had bought a GM. Mom and Dad drove Cadillacs (only one saw 100k). The eldest one had a Monte Carlo (a.k.a. Crapo) that didn’t see the road half the time. Second in line had a Regal (a.k.a. the dying diesel) that ended up stolen and trashed in the Grand Canyon. He actually felt sorry for the canyon.
Within three years both these Roger Smith specials were replaced with 1988 Celica GT’s. Great cars with no nicknames necessary. Three years later I had a Celica GT-S sitting on my driveway. Even better. Still no nicknames. By the end of the decade everyone in the family had a Toyota.
But then things changed…
Toyota’s quality took a sharp U-Turn and unintentionally accelerated towards the ‘decontenting’ highway starting in the late-90′s. The 1997 Camry, 1998 Corolla, and pretty much every other Toyota that wasn’t a luxury car or first generation (RAV-4 and Sienna) went straight to the crematorium of cost cutters. “Affordability is the No.1 priority,” said the 1997 Camry chief engineer Kosaku Yamada. “The Camry is not a luxury car.” and so it became the harbinger of things to come.
The fourth generation Camry (1997 – 2001) in fact became number one. Not just by beating the Accord and Taurus. But by crushing them into a fine red mist for its entire model run. This was Toyota’s first truly competitive ‘decontented’ model and the net result was about $1500 to $2000 per vehicle. Multiply that by the nearly 2 million Camrys that went out the door and Toyota had finally found a true cash cow. ‘Cost improvement’ along with ‘decontenting’ soon became a big part of the Toyota way.
Some of the decontenting was based on the reduction of parts. Front bumper clips and components were reduced from 57 to 15. The doors triple seal rubber in the prior generation gave way to a single seal. Others were a bit more pronounced.
The dashboard material felt a bit cheaper compared with the old model. Items that were once power, such as the antenna, became manual. Bulbs became cheaper. The engine bay became a little less ostentatious. The biggest issue though became the increased incidences of engine sludge inside the 2.2L four and 3.0L V6. Toyota would eventually have over 3.5 million engines subject to the settlement. This would be Toyota’s first real black eye on the media front along with 10 safety recalls during this generation’s model run. Judging on the feedback from owner enthusiast sites around the net, the ‘real’ customer satisfaction ratings also started to take a beating.
At the time of the Camry’s release in 1997, Toyota still had an ironclad reputation to fall back on. Go to carsurvey.com and look up the Toyotas that came before that time. A 1990 to 1996 ‘anything’ with the name Toyota on it was literally two clicks above anything else save the occasional Civic or Accord. You couldn’t kill these models once you turned the key. Even when my beloved Celica GT-S was hit by a meat truck driven by a drunk Greek, the underpowered engine kept right on ticking away. I’m sure someone’s using that engine somewhere.
But damn were Toyotas expensive before the ‘decontenting’ period. In 1994 I could not get a Camry with ABS to replace the Celica for less than $20,000 retail in my neck of the woods. We’re not talking MSRP…. but retail… before tax, tag and title. I should know because I eventually had to go several states away to find one close to that price. That one has lasted 280k+… but Toyota’s problem was that folks simply didn’t buy on the perception of quality alone. Price, features, and performance were the elixirs for most car buyers of the time. Toyota had flashes of greatness with features (Lexus LS and SC) and performance (Supra). But the big P was where Toyota simply didn’t have it anywhere in their line-up.
Part of the fault was with the Yen. Toyota couldn’t make the big jump from being the ‘quality champion’ to ‘sales champion’ because their cars were just too expensive out the door if they were sourced and built in Japan. Honda offered a smaller and cheaper Accord that was heavily sourced in America by the early-90s. Ford had a Taurus that was corner cut and subsidized by everything from rental car companies to an absurdly ancient powertrain. While Toyota would offer families a $20,000 Camry with ABS. You could far more easily get one from Ford that was $4,000 cheaper… the Accord was $2,000 cheaper. Both of them were well thought of in the marketplace with Honda’s Accord being the retail sales chamption.
Unfortunately for Toyota, that wasn’t even the half of it. The bigger problem was Toyota itself. It was old. As in lifetime employment, perhaps one quarter of their corporate employees hanging out and reading newspapers old. Maryann Keller had written a book pretty much highlighting the fact that Toyota’s bureaucracy was riddled with a conservative and intensely loyal faithful that made ‘The Toyota Way’ front and center. But by the time 1997 reared it’s head, they were pulling down big salaries with little to do.
To make matters worse, Toyota really couldn’t stop spending once it fell in love with an idea. The 1st generation Lexus SC400 was the perfect example of this cost no object approach. Toyota wanted to build a coupe that was completely different from the conventional styles of the time. All curves, no flat edges, no flat surfaces. It was done… but the costs for developing the body stamps and assembly line technologies went well into the mid-hundreds of millions. Throw in the the SC 400′s 4.0 L V81UZ-FE engine which reportedly cost over $400 million, and Toyota had a billion dollar financial bomb in its hand. Even though the Lexus SC would remain beloved and sought after by many, few were willing to pay for a luxury coupe whose price would rise from $40k to nearly $60k within a single generation.
The period right up to 1996 represented a very unique point in time for Toyota. They could offer customers a great car. But oftentimes the engineering prowess would simply run roughshod over the financial realities of the marketplace. The same unprofitable fate for the SC would eventually be true for other Toyota models. The eight year run of the pathetically spartan Tercel, the tin can mid-1990′s Toyota Corolla, even arguably the last generation Supra. Toyota simply wasn’t the leader in any particular segment when it came to offering value in the marketplace.
By the late-1990′s Toyota was all too ready to move in a more profitable direction. A shift that would be heavily based on replacing the ‘Q’ word with the $ sign.
Note: This article was originally written on January 20, 2010. The next day Toyota issued an initial recall of 2.3 million vehicles due to throttle issues. A week later Toyota announced the recall of 7.5 million vehicles due to pedal related issues. On January 29, 2010 another 1.88 million vehicles were recalled globally for the same issues. Toyota would receive an exoneration from NASA and the NHTSA for electronic steering malfunctions, but ongoing litigation and recall issues have continued to plague the company.
Great post Steve, and a pleasure to see you commenting!
I will say I take great issue with your “tin can” name calling of the mid 90s Corolla! The AE100 body car (93-97 in US) was like the baby Lexus at the time. Awesome NVH engineering, fantastic interior quality and materials. If I didn’t have a well run-in (204k miles) but excellent condition ’96 ES300 as a commuter right now, I’d strongly consider hunting around for a Corolla of that generation. The ’98 Corolla that followed started to lose the plot, at least in terms of interior ‘feel.’
Nicely stated. I noted in a post last week about ’87 cars how much more expensive the Japanese offerings were. Sure they were better quality, but they had to be for what they were charging.
One thing I think should be mentioned is that that is still going on to some extent. There is no doubt, for example, that a Sienna was more refined than a Town & Country up through the 2016 model year. And their MSRPs were similar. But nobody paid MSRP on the Chrysler. The street price undercut the Sienna by around $7000. For me, and I think for most people looking at things objectively, the Sienna didn’t justify that kind of premium.
But of course there’s a limit to that strategy. Chrysler doesn’t want to just be the low-profit volume leader, which is why the Pacifica, at least initially, appears to be the outright best in class and doesn’t offer the same financial incentives.
The comments about the SC are off the mark, except of course that it ended up being a miscalculation that lost money (which isn’t in doubt).
First, it’s important to remember that “our” first-gen SC300/SC400 was the third generation of a very successful line of JDM personal luxury coupes, the Toyota Soarer. The Soarer evolved from the original Celica XX/Celica Supra and remained mechanically related, although Toyota considered it a distinct platform. It was probably Toyota’s preeminent JDM halo car, and it owned its segment decisively. So, Toyota had ample reason to put a lot of effort into the third generation, particularly since they (a) expected to add volume with the introduction of the export Lexus version and (b) needed a fresh styling direction, since they had lunched off the styling cues of the Z10 and Z20 an awful lot by 1987.
Almost any new monocoque body shell was going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The Z30 was more challenging to build than its predecessor and certainly expensive to tool, but it also had a lot of mechanical commonality with other high-end Toyotas, including the Supra, Crown, and LS400. (The 1UZ-FE V-8 was developed for the LS400 and dropped into the Soarer/SC400 and some high-end JDM models with few changes, so describing it as a failed indulgence for the SC400 really isn’t correct. The UZ-system engine would have cost Toyota more if they hadn’t found other applications for it besides the LS400.) Toyota
Where the Z30 Soarer and Lexus SC fell down was that the market for coupes collapsed, both in Japan and the U.S. Even if Toyota had chickened out and done a much more conservative refresh of the Z20 that kept the cheaper JDM 5-number models (the cheapest Z30 in Japan had a twin-turbo 2.5-liter six, so it was expensive to run even beyond its initial cost), the market wouldn’t have been there by the time it arrived, just as happened with the Nissan 300ZX, the Supra, the RX-7, the Lincoln Mark VIII, and the MN12 Thunderbird.
As for the price, the escalation in Lexus prices in the nineties was due almost entirely to the value of the yen relative to the dollar. The JDM prices pretty closely reflected the U.S. prices on an exchange rate basis; the prices in yen went up gradually (not by any dramatic amount), but the amount that translated to in dollars rose at a much faster rate.
Beyond that, it seems contradictory to in the same breath lambast Toyota for being too conservative (although that was and remains true) and for going too far out on a daring and radical design — and a very well-executed one — that turned out to be the wrong car for its era. (It certainly turned out better than the roly-poly Z40 S430 that replaced it.) Toyota learned their lesson and came up with the Harrier/RX300 crossover, which was a much more commercially successful product, but not a better or more desirable or more interesting one.
On Millennials- the twenty-somethings at my work all seem to ride to work with someone- but I can’t determine exactly who these someones are- probably older folks. So I don’t know if ownership equals interest. Maybe?
I remember lusting after this generation of Camry in the late 1990’s. I never bought one, but I do own its Corolla contemporary and having driven both I think I like it better.
I think that plain, competent and reliable is not just a happenstance of Toyotas- it’s central to their appeal. I very much want a car that looks good but is not too “bling”y or attracts attention to itself unnecessarily, and that works well and for a long time with little attention. This allows me to focus my mental energy on the myriad other things I have to think about and do. This could be their slogan: “Toyota- for People with Better Things to Do and Think About”. 🙂
I remember these very well, in fact, they look back to what were some of the best days of my life, and what will probably always be one of the (hopefully not “the”) golden eras.
We had two Civics in the early 90s. My mom’s friend’s parents bought a new ’93 Camry LE with V6. Mom got to borrow it one weekend while her car was in the shop. She wanted one, but didn’t want to spend the money at the time. Fast forward to late 1996, when my music teacher picked up a new ’97 V6 LE in beige. Rode with him to a music festival where I was to perform. Long trip, smooth car. I was really impressed and told my parents. Shortly before taking trips to look at colleges in 1998, we decided that, between 6’3 dad and 6’0 me, we needed something bigger than a hatchback for long trips. The rear seat of the current Accord did not measure up. Over to Toyota. We found one with a 4 cylinder and manual shift. My mom was staunchly anti-automatic in those days. We got it, in white with grey interior and, finally, 4-doors. Bliss. As a person who had spent his whole life within memory wanting a car like my grandfathers big boats, this was the biggest car we’d ever owned and by far the most comfortable. I was psyched. We took it on long family road trips to Maine, upstate New York, and other places that would have been hell in an un-airconditioned Civic DX hatchback. Finally, a proper family car. Of course, it was all over the place on TV too…at that time, the Toyota spokesman was “TV Guy” who would show up at the beach, at parties, etc. in the commercials to urge people to get the Camry. It certainly was the “Chevrolet sedan” of the late 90s.
Ours was not as reliable as the Hondas in one key sense–the transmission crapped out about 6 years into ownership on my mom’s way home from work while I was in college. Although, I was driving the Cadillac Brougham at the time and drove out to rescue her, and as my mom put it “well, if you have to break down, it’s kind of nice to get picked up by a Caddy”, so we got a funny story out of it. She sold it soon after for an ’05 Prius…deciding she wanted better mileage and, oddly enough, was tired of the manual gearbox!
It will always be, along with the Ford Explorer Gen 2, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, etc., a symbol of some of the happiest years of my life–the late 90s, when I was having fun and doing well in high school and college, my parents were employed at good jobs, we were making more money every day on the stock market, and I didn’t have to worry about anything.
Today, however, the only ones I see are beat up and have plenty of “Camry dents” in those bumper corners.
One thing to point out is that while Camry is #1 car, Toyota has not cracked the full size truck big 3. Some car writers eagerly expected Tundra to overthrow F-150, but the truck market is not same as the ‘point A to B’ commuter car market.
Also, with cars shrinking in market share, at some point Camry will fall from #1. Will it even still be relevant?
Camry appeals to aging Boomers, who will go into great detail how bad their 1980 Citation was. But Millennials don’t remember the 70s/80s, and don’t care about ancient Vegas/Citations. So they look at Chevys without batting an eyelash. Scion was an attempt to market to them and failed, Toyota has to offer more. than just “hey we made a better Citation!”
The Tundra hit the full-size pickup market running, but they haven’t done much with it since. It’s a generation behind the competition today and ranked dead last by most journalists. It is, however, reliable. Same strategy that worked with the Tacoma, I suppose, but it’s not working for the Tundra.
I owned a 1997 Camry LE 4 cylinder. I gave it to my brother with 185k miles on it, only non routine items done were window regulators and valve cover gasket. It’s really a great car. No really. I’ve rode in the prior gen and later gen models and you can feel the refinement that’s been done with each gen. Is it perfect, of course not. Is it an enthusiast car? Are you an effing idiot? It’s a great car for those of us that work for a living and want to save some $$ so that we can buy a house/Alfa/kids college.
Wow I’m glad I missed the flame wars by 6 years. Why is it that the two biggest (Toyota and GM) and arguably the most boring automakers generate so much passion?
Yes there are still a handful of 90’s Impalas with peeling paint and leaky drivetrains on the road and there are also a few 90’s Camrys still limping along with rust holes big enough to fit your hand through.
At this point you’re just arguing about which car has higher scrap value. Those cars are just as forgettable as the CUVs of today, which also will eventually become just scrap metal.
It may well have been a good quality car, but to me this is the most boring looking version of the Camry! They seem to look pretty good for one generation and then ugly the next and then back to decent looking for the next.
I couldn’t make it through all the six year old comments, but I read enough to come away puzzled by the paradoxical nature of this car. How could something so ubiquitous, conservative and un-exciting, generate such emotion?
You mean like a pickup truck? 🙂
More firsthand experience I’d wager, same with an old Impala. With a car this ubiquitous everyone has a story, be it positive or negative. With more exciting cars like a Corvette it’s obvious they’re catered to a specific section of the market and criticisms like cargo space and fuel efficiency are excused as givens where it’s pointless to debate about. Camrys are cars designed to appeal to literally everyone, and opinions on what appeals and doesn’t varies from person to person, and you’ll get strong opinions since whatever priorities are chosen to focus on based on consumer clinics you’re likely to personally encounter whether you like it or not, or are just indifferent to it.
To that end I think the Camry has mainly been just a lightning rod for criticism, it’s not like competing sedans in recent decades have been all that exciting either (Fusion? Altima?) It’s just at the top of the pyramid of “bland” soft edged neutral colored modern cars, and criticism of the Camry can easily be perceived as a veiled criticism of the current day auto business, or even the greater economy as a whole, and then the dogmatic opinions really fly!
Meanwhile saying “I don’t like that the Corvette went midengined” might elicit an “ok boomer” response, but probably won’t get into an economics and humanities debate.
These are excellent points.
I think there’s also a reflexive tendency to contempt toward the mainstream, which this vintage of Camry assuredly was. Part of the comparative affection for, for example, the sixties Impala is that while it was once mainstream, the status quo it represented is now extinct. I’m pretty sure if you told the buff book cognoscenti of the late sixties or early seventies that one day, people would be nostalgic for the Impala as an exemplar of the classic Real Cars nobody makes anymore, they would have thought you were high. Comparing the comments about the Camry to “The Gross Pointe Myopians” is instructive in this regard.
(Or, more specific to the Impala, “America’s Two-Dimensional Sweetheart” from about three years later.)
I actually have very little experience with either the Camry or Impala. I put a few miles on my in-laws’ first gen Camry when we borrowed it for our honeymoon road trip, on the opposite coast from our own cars. I drove about 2 miles in a 2012 Camry that my sister rented while visiting us, and hated, so asked me to drive it for an errand. And I rode in a few Camries while on in Taiwan on business. As for Impala’s, a high school friend’s parents had a ‘69 two door, but it got replaced by an RX3. And our longtime neighbors had a four door 1964 Impala from ‘64 to about 1975. That’s it, no close friends with either one, which is actually rather surprising considering the one-time ubiquity of Camries especially. So I have no feelings about them, which explains my puzzlement about the emotion. Now, as a long-time pickup owner …
The same way Microsoft Windows (…Word, Excel…) and Adobe Photoshop (…Illustrator…) generate an endless stream of well-deserved vitriol: why must they make the perpetually profitable dominant product so infuriatingly flawed? It’s doglick mediocrity: because they can.
I liked my 2011 Camry LE much, much more than my 2019 Camry.
I sold the 2019 when it was 18 months old with all of 3500 miles on it. The spastic, bipolar drivetrain was just the opposite of the smooth & competent one in the 2011 Camry.
The 2019 was one of the few cars that I do not regret selling.
That bad? Despite my earlier comments I have, ever since the current model has become available here in Austria (see link), debated whether I should test drive one in order to experience the mystery at first hand. What was the problem exactly? Switching between gas and electric modes of propulsion?
Interesting bit from the article about safety: “The cars on sale this fall meet or exceed all American, European, and Japanese requirements, existing or proposed, through the end of the century.”
And (if I understand correctly), Toyota kept stylistically refreshing this same platform from 1997 to 2017, when they finally introduced an “all new car”.
I wonder if the true genius here was out GMing GM.
Donno who made that imaginative claim about the ’97 Camry meeting all existing and proposed U.S.; Japanese, and European safety standards through the end of the century, if anyone authoritative did at all. It reads more like a garburation by this Robert Cumberford, who evidently did not know or understand what he was talking about. Andor, perhaps he was just regurgitating flowery claims from Toyota’s PR office. Plop me down next to an American-market 1997 Camry and I will walk around it pointing out the European and Japanese standards it does not meet, that existed at the time. Then I’ll walk around it again and do it with the ones that were proposed but not yet in force at the time.
It wasn’t his only baseless claim on the subject; he also wrote Safety has become—belatedly but seriously—interesting to Japanese manufacturers, who up to now tended to do whatever was required and not a bit more. Umm…no-no, Mr. Cumberford, you’re thinking of GM; Ford, and Chrysler.
I’m sure Toyota were big fans of this article, though, so…mission accomplished, I guess.
Bulk wrap. That was Toyota’s propaganda, and it looks to have worked; viz the fawning subhead there: ‘The best car built in America’ gets better…a lot better. But it was a bunch of horsebeef. Take the headlamps, for example: the ’92-’96 Camry had very good headlamps using what was at that time a set of reasonably modern light sources (9006 low beam and 9005 high beam bulbs) and providing very good performance—so much so that they were used as the benchmark when the US headlamp standards were revised to include an optional specification for higher low-beam performance in 1996-’97.
The 1997 Camry had pathetic headlamps. They used an obsolete light source (H4 high/low beam bulb, state of the art in 1968), which works okeh in large, tall headlamps, but they used it in small, slim ones where its inherent low beam inefficiency severely limits output. Performance was barely above the legal minimum when everything was new, and they aged fast and badly.
Similar degradation at the rear of the car: no change in light sources, but the ’92-’96 Camry rear lights were large and bright; the ’97 items were small and dim.
The headlamps were fixed for 2000 with a return to 9005-9006 bulbs and a larger lamp. The taillamps weren’t fixed.
Lighting is my go-to proxy, but I have no doubt the cost-cutting ran deep and wide, and it affected the hell out of ” customer experience “.
When I first started reading this post, I first thing I thought of was that the lighting of the ’97 was definitely a downgrade, both in new performance and definitely as the lenses aged.
I read most of the comments before I saw your post. I’m glad you posted because you said what I was going to say but much better and with good ol’ facts ‘n’ stuff.
Regardless of that I always thought the ’97 was a handsome car, in spite of (and maybe because of) looking like an older design.
Nice wheels, nice stance, looks good in black.
But I also love the (often-mentioned in the comments above) ’77 Olds Cutlass Supreme.
I had a 1997 Camry; it was bought new and kept for 7 years and 111,000 miles. It was the volume model, the LE with 4-cylinder and automatic. Yes, there was cost-cutting, including on the headlights and taillights as Daniel Stern has mentioned.
But there were also some advantages — the new model had adjustable rear seat head restraints, the hand brake was offset toward the driver’s seat (rather than the passenger’s on the ’96), and the car was rated Good in the IIHS moderate overlap test (compared to Acceptable for the 1995-96 models). Also, as the Automobile article points out, ABS was made standard on most models, including the LE 4-cylinder.
My car was part of the alleged engine oil sludging group. Ironically with this car, I finally decided to forego the once-obligatory 3,000-mile oil and filter change intervals and increased it to 5,000 miles, which worked out to about every 4 months. (The manual specified normal service intervals of 7,500 miles or 6 months.) I never had sludging.
Despite “only” 138 horsepower, the car seemed sprightly enough, and I never had trouble merging onto expressways.
The only reason it was sold was to get side curtain and side torso airbags on a newer 2004 Camry; otherwise it would have been kept longer.
And this is what my car looked like just before it was sold on eBay in 2004.