As a teen, it’s common to go from one extreme to the next. One day, you feel like the coolest kid in school, by far. The next, you have a giant pimple and your crush saw it, causing a confidence crisis so big that you’ll definitely never, ever forget how you felt that day. That’s kind of how Toyota is acting right now.
Toyota, while being one of the top car companies worldwide, is known for its rather safe and tame approach to things. (Toyota pleaded for everyone to stop calling it boring in the midst of its ongoing identity crisis, so we’re trying to use nicer words as to not hurt its feelings. Teens, you know, they’re sensitive.)
The identity crisis seemed to go into full swing with the unveiling of the 2018 Camry, which has an admittedly fierce styling but will soon have enough dents in it to look just like every other beige Toyota sedan out there. But Toyota didn’t see its new chariot like that. Toyota saw the new Camry, as, gasp: sexy.
Here’s how Toyota president Akio Toyoda talked about his company’s new car after showing it off in January, from the Chicago Tribune:
“Now I know calling a Camry ‘sexy’ might be overstating it for some,” Toyoda said during the most entertaining of a dozen vehicle debuts at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday. “But I truly do believe our designers hit it out of the park this time.”
Honestly, who starts a sentence with “Now I know I may be talking too highly of my products for you to actually agree, but, just hear me out.” That is the exact level of confidence somebody has while being dropped off at their first middle-school dance: zero.
The “We’re trying!” tone got worse. From Automotive News, a few days after the Tribune report:
“Toyota has very few weaknesses, but if you had to pick on one, maybe the design could have been bolder in the past,” said Mickey Anderson, chairman of the Toyota National Dealers’ Advisory Council. “But our newest products [are different], and the C-HR is probably the most present illustration of the fact that Toyota is building just some stunning vehicles and some exciting vehicles.” ...
“I’d go so far as to maybe say they have made kind of a sexy Camry, which maybe wouldn’t be a word you’d always pick for that car,” Anderson told Automotive News.
Then, as if Toyota didn’t bust the right moves at the school dance, the wave of Camry confidence it was riding took a dip when it began thinking about the old days. Toyota really wanted people to stop calling it boring, because that whole “boring” thing was just a phase, mom, and Toyota is totally into, like, punk rock and stuff now. That’s what’s in style. You wouldn’t get it.
From a USA Today report in May:
“Until now, there were times when Toyota’s cars were called ‘boring’ or were said to be lacking in character,” Toyoda told reporters Wednesday. “But I now feel that, in terms of driving and design, our customers have begun to favorably evaluate our cars.”
“Our customers have begun to favorably evaluate our cars.” So, you’re saying that all of these people dump a ton of cash on your basic sedans and crossovers, just to think, “What an awful car. It’s really unfortunate that I bought it. It’s not like there are other choices out there, or the internet to help me find one.”
Allllllrighty then. Maybe that’s not the best thing to say out loud. But like the hormonal teen years, Toyota is back on its confidence wave again.
The most recent installment, coming last week, is that, actually, it’s not just Toyota’s customers evaluating it favorably. People who would never put their hands on a Toyota—who do you think they are, anyway?—are all over its new C-HR compact crossover, Toyota employees say. (It’s a crossover. Duh, it’s selling.)
From a Wall Street Journal report:
“I think we’ve been able to attract new customers who in the past wouldn’t have even looked at Toyota cars, because this car is so un-Toyota,” said engineer Hiroyuki Koba.
Toyota’s focus has long been on building cars that some could describe as boring, Mr. Koba said. “For models that sell well, our cars tend to be acceptable to everyone—cars that won’t cause anyone to complain.” ...
When the company gave a preview last year, Mr. Koba said it was designed for “customers who dislike Toyota cars.” With sharp edges and a face evoking a scowling Kabuki actor, the car marked a departure for a company that plodded its way to selling 10 million vehicles a year.
Toyota called the design sensual and said it resembled a “sexy diamond.” Some Wall Street Journal readers who commented after the first look were less kind, with one comparing it to a “squashed frog.”
The car is a sensual, sexy diamond, just like you were when you managed to get your crush’s phone number back in the teenage days. Let’s just hope somebody doesn’t forget to text Toyota back.