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Detroit show: Toyota NS4 sets style for Camry

Revealed: The coupe-like Toyota NS4 plug-in hybrid sedan concept on the Detroit show stand.

Toyota designers put their stamp on coupe-like concept for 2015 mid-sizer

11 Jan 2012

SQUINT a little at Toyota’s NS4 concept car and you could be looking at the styling direction of the next-generation Toyota Camry.

Designers of the plug-in hybrid concept unveiled today at the Detroit motor show were under instruction from Toyota’s American chiefs to come up with a vision for a mid-sized sedan to go on sale from 2015.

Join the dots and that could mean Camry – the Japanese giant’s biggest seller in the US, where the next model just happens to be due in about 2015 – although some American pundits are predicting it could end up as a Lexus.

However, that is unlikely, as Lexus has a long history of showing its own concepts, such as the LF-LC coupe that also broke cover in Detroit this week.

Some aspects of the design are a little Prius-ish, but Toyota was at pains to say that the NS4 is not a potential member of the Prius family, but a move towards a wider application of plug-in Hybrid Synergy Drive petrol-electric technology.

Many of the features of the concept, such as the electrically opening doors, are fanciful, but the overall swoopy four-door coupe design is eminently buildable.

Toyota says the cab-forward design is a new styling direction for the Toyota brand aimed at “creating an emotional connection with consumers”.

8 center imageThat will be welcome news to Toyota dealers selling Camry as it is under increasing pressure from reinvigorated, more stylish rivals such as the Chevrolet Malibu and the new Mondeo-based Ford Fusion that was also launched at the Detroit show.

One automotive analyst predicted on US TV that the Fusion “will stab the Camry in the neck”.

The derivative styling of the current Camry – just launched in Australia – will have to hold the fort for four more years until the arrival of the NS4-influenced replacement, which is expected to go global.

That means Camry will follow Prius down the plug-in hybrid route, at least on one variant.

Toyota says the NS4 features a new-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain with smaller, lighter parts to cut weight and bulk for greater efficiency, better acceleration and longer range, while maintaining a similar charging time. No power or performance figures were provided.

Much of the NS4 presentation at the show was devoted to the so-called connectivity of the car – a mantra echoed by so many motor companies at this year’s Detroit extravaganza.

Toyota Motor Sales president Jim Lentz said cars of the digital age were “becoming another spoke in the wheel of our electronic connectivity”.

“NS4 demonstrates Toyota’s take on the human connection to the car with technology that considers both emotional and rational relationships, person-to-car and car-to-society,” he said.

Toyota says “connected vehicles” are the third-fastest growing technological device behind smartphones and tablets.

“Toyota has formed special alliances with technology leaders such as Microsoft, Intel and Salesforce to explore the creation of seamless vehicle interfaces with emerging technologies,” the company said.

“These alliances will help ensure Toyota is at the forefront of this emerging sector of the automotive market.”

The NS4’s controls are said to be based on smartphone technology for simplicity of use.

“The simple, intuitive operation conveys information quickly while minimising distractions and maximising driver awareness,” Toyota said.

The system is even capable of “learning” driver preferences and habits to anticipate driver responses in specific environments and situations.

The futuristic four-seat interior of the NS4 attracted interest from rival designers visiting the Toyota stand.

The top half of the console protrudes from the dash, to put the controls within easy reach of the driver, while the centre console features a BMW-style control knob for selection of various functions.

Atop the steering column sits what appears to be a magnifying glass, presumably to enlarge the speedo and other readouts.

The doors of the concept – dubbed “swan-wings” by Toyota spin-masters – are operated with a push of a button, swinging out and up electrically for easier access. At least, they are supposed to, but technicians setting up the car on the stand had trouble getting one of the rear doors to obey until they rebooted a computer hidden in the boot.

The NS4 is said to be laden with advanced safety features that have filtered down from high-cost Lexus vehicles, including a radar-operated pre-crash system, lane-departure warning and so on.

Toyota boasts that the NS4 has four new glass technologies that do things such as cause rainwater to run, prevent fogging, block UV and reduce cabin heat.

The roof – supported at the front by narrow A pillars to enhance visibility – is cloaked with solar cells to help boost battery charge.

Toyota also showed the production version of its Prius C hybrid sports hatchback at Detroit, 12 months after the concept was revealed at the same show.

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