Toyota-More Challenges than Recalls

12 Feb 2010 | 1,794 views | No Comment
Can you identify this car? Of course you can.  It’s a Toyota Avalon, right? But did you know that this is the 2011 Toyota Avalon, freshly introduced at this week’s Chicago Auto Show? Neither did we. Which highlights why, in the long run,  we fear that Toyota’s problems run a lot deeper than the current recalls suggest. Toyota is proud of its new Avalon.  And they should be.  It’s got plenty of wonderful new features including an industry first reclining rear seat in  its market segment. It’s got upgraded features like a touch screen navigation system with real time traffic, Bluetooth hands-free phone capability with music streaming to the audio system, and beautiful new fabrics and materials inside. Yes, it has a wider grille, new headlights, dual exhaust pipes and some other styling improvements. amenities.  And the dashboard is new, too, and a beautiful redo, if we say so ourselves. The steering wheel includes controls for Bluetooth hands-free phones, the audio system, climate system, and the information center. It’s also got a dual-zone climate control system, with nine air-flow modes for more precise control of interior climate, and a clean-air filter removes dust and pollen.  Doors use three stop positions instead of two for easier entrance and exit.  A lockable glove box has a pneumatic-door damper and inner box illumination.  The front-console box has a sliding armrest that moves 4.7 inches front to rear, able to accommodate a wide range of driver positions.  The elegantly stitched top is padded with a double density cushion material for softness.  Inside, there is a 12-volt outlet in addition to the USB and auxiliary audio terminals. All of these are welcome additions and upgrades. But to describe this car in terms that Toyota’s using  such as “boldly redesigned”  (huh?) and “dynamic new exterior” is overreaching to say the least. You would be hard put to identify a single new feature on this car, given that it looks almost precisely like the 2010 model. And that’s the problem for Toyota, and potentially a far more serious one than the one its facing now in the court of public opinion concerning recalls. At a time when styling has become such a driver for many people to venture into a showroom, Toyota continues to proceed far too cautiously, rarely taking chances with its designs. But sadly, unless the customers out there see some reason to check your products out, they’ll simply yawn and move on. Few people will know about the new features, the new safety equipment and all the other things that are compelling about the Avalon, which has to be one of the most comfortable, reassuring cars you can drive. And why? Because they’ll assume there’s not much reason to look closer. It’s too similar to the previous car. And look at the competition. Hyundai seems to be introducing new medium sized and large sedans quicker than the eye can see, and has another one coming this summer. Kia’s got the new  Cadenza.  Even Chrysler, as beleaguered as it is, has an all-new 300 due out in a few months. Many people who have seen it, describe it as “breathtaking.”  And have you seen the new Buick LaCrosse? Almost shamelessly gorgeous. All of these cars will have similar quality and fit and finish, content, and engineering. So where does that leave the Avalon, with its familiar, modest but unexciting design? But it’s time to give what is a fine product line a chance. Competition is bound to get tougher, and the recalls surely won’t help draw in the crowds. We don’t mean to be piling on, or knocking a good company while it’s down. But we know Toyota can do it. Just look at its new Venza, for instance. It’s a gorgeous car with Italianesque styling. But if Toyota isn’t careful, its design conservatism will lead to a far greater problem than its recalls will---a lack of interest by consumers who are now weaned on change, three year model cycles, and something new and different in a far shorter span of time than the five year cycle that Toyota apparently is using these days. All of this used to be GM’s big problem—leaving older designs on the show floor much longer than they should have done. We hope Toyota doesn’t make it theirs, too.

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