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Camry Hybrid to go after big sixes

Alternative motoring: Toyota's Camry Hybrid is now rolling down the Altona assembly line as Australia becomes the fourth country to put the Toyota petrol-electric model into production.

Toyota aims Camry Hybrid squarely at local rivals as buyers ditch large cars

11 Dec 2009

TOYOTA Australia will target the “huge migration” of car owners downsizing from traditional six-cylinder cars when it launches its new petrol-electric Camry Hybrid with a likely sub-$35,000 starting price in February.

The company also hopes to use the hi-tech, fuel-friendly Camry Hybrid to help shed its fleet-car tag by almost doubling its percentage of private buyers for Camry from the current 24 per cent to 40 per cent.

Toyota Australia executive vice-president of sales and marketing David Buttner said: “We want to use Hybrid Camry to really put a halo across total Camry.

“Currently, Camry private share is about 24 per cent. We would like to increase that to 40 per cent in Hybrid Camry, and hopefully that will give us an opportunity to up-sell from our level one, normal Camry to Camry Hybrid.”

Mr Buttner confirmed that Toyota had rival local car-makers in its sights by saying Toyota would use the new Camry Hybrid to intercept car buyers moving down from large six-cylinder cars into medium fours.

“We want to use Camry Hybrid to really capture some of those downsizers,” he said.

However, the strategy is likely to have serious consequences for Toyota’s other Altona car line, the six-cylinder, Camry-based Aurion.

8 center imageLeft: Prime minister Kevin Rudd talks with Toyota workers. Below: Mr Rudd with Victorian premier John Brumby and Victorian industry and trade minister Martin Pakula (right).

Although Mr Buttner would not be drawn on the future of Aurion, any decline in the current 14,000 units a year – already down 29 per cent on last year – is likely to colour a decision on investment by Toyota for a replacement model in about two years.

Aurion is also likely to be impacted by Ford's planned four-cylinder EcoBoost Falcon and Holden's locally made Cruze small car which will arrive in showrooms in the second half of next year with large fleet ambitions.

And even though Camry Hybrid has not yet hit the showrooms, it will also have to prove itself quickly in the market place, as the company needs to decide in a matter of months if it too should continue in local production in the next generation that is expected to start appearing overseas within 18 months.

So far, only one government – Victoria – has announced a commitment to a Camry Hybrid fleet purchase, ordering 2000 units spread over the two-year production life of the car.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today had the honour of driving the ceremonial first car off the production line before hurrying off to prepare for the Copenhagen for the global environment summit, although the federal government has still not committed to adding Camry Hybrids to its commonwealth fleet – publicly, at least.

Mr Buttner said after the ceremony that the company was talking with every state and federal government about fleet sales of the first locally-built hybrid which will go on sale in February.

However, he indicated that that federal government was expected to join its Victorian counterparts by ordering a fleet of the petrol-electric Camrys, which Toyota claims will deliver 35 per cent better fuel economy than locally-built large sixes.

“We believe they are very supportive of the technology and we are hopeful of future sales,” he said.

The deal to put the car into production in Australia was subsidised by a grant from the federal government’s $1.3 billion green car industry fund.

As he got behind the wheel of the pearlescent white Camry to drive it from the factory, Mr Rudd invoked the memory of another Labor prime minister, Ben Chifley, who rode in the first Holden off the production line in Melbourne 61 years ago“Just as Australia welcomed the first all-Australian car in 1948, with Ben Chifley there for the ride, so 60 years later, all Australians should welcome the first Australian-made hybrid car,” he said.

“This is the start of a whole new era in Australia motoring.”

Toyota temporarily closed the Altona plant so more than 2000 factory workers could watch the ceremony which was attended by a heavyweight delegation of state and federal politicians, including federal industry minister Kim Carr, Victorian premier John Brumby and state industry minister Martin Pakula.

Toyota Motor Corporation executive vice president Yukitoshi Funo – who once worked Toyota’s Melbourne plant – also flew in for the unveiling.

Hybrid production will ramp up from the current hanful of units a day to about 50 a day by the time sales start in February for a full-year target of 10,000 units. In total, the factory is currently building 510 units a day of both Camry Aurion for domestic and export markets, but has a capacity of 650 units.

Mr Buttner said volume was dependent on delivery of the hybrid drivetrain from Japan, which was under pressure to keep up with demand from plants around the world, including one in Thailand.

But he said Toyota Australia would happily make more than 10,000 a year if the market demanded, and could do so at a profit.

At today’s ceremony, Toyota announced plans to export 300 Camry Hybrids to New Zealand, and indicated it was in discussions to expand exports to other destinations where possible.

However, Toyota Australia faces stiff competition from other Toyota plants producing Camry Hybrid, particularly the low-cost Thai operation.

Toyota currently exports about 100,000 vehicles a year to 20 countries, with the Middle East being the biggest recipient, although down on its peak of 2007.

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