Toyota, rebounding in the United States after four years of sliding sales, is giving its Avalon sedan a sleeker look to attract younger drivers and help sustain growth of the company's namesake brand.
The 2013 Avalon, designed in California, engineered in Michigan and built in Georgetown, was created "from beginning to end here in the U.S. specifically for American buyers," Randy Stephens, chief engineer for the large sedan, told reporters Oct. 24 in Yountville, Calif. A V-6 engine Avalon and a new hybrid variant go on sale in early December.
The new model was officially launched at an event Tuesday at the Georgetown plant.
"It was time to alter the present course and revitalize Avalon's rather conservative image to something more vibrant and youthful," said Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota's U.S. design studio in Newport Beach, Calif. The car got a "leaner" exterior and new grille because "we really needed a bold departure from the current path," he said.
Toyota expects to increase U.S. sales 30 percent this year, after failing to join the industry's recovery in 2010 and 2011 because of recalls and natural disasters. Buoyed by expanding sales of Camry sedans, Prius hybrids and Lexus luxury models, Japan's largest carmaker may sell 2 million vehicles in the United States for the first time since 2008.
Deliveries of the Avalon, with a base price of $30,990, should reach 70,000 in 2013, Bill Fay, group vice president of U.S. Toyota sales, said last week in Yountville. That would be the most since 2007 and more than double the 28,925 sold in 2011.
Competing sedans include Ford's Taurus and Hyundai's Genesis and Azera. Their segment may grow 7 percent to about 400,000 vehicles in 2013, said Fay, based at Toyota's U.S. sales unit in Torrance, Calif.
Avalon marks the start of a shift in Toyota-brand models in response to President Akio Toyoda's desire for edgier styling and a sportier ride and handling, Hunter said.
The new look and improved fuel efficiency are intended to cut the average Avalon buyer's age to the mid-50s, from 65 for the current car, Fay said. For the first time,
The company also plans a marketing campaign targeting black consumers, Fay said.
"One of the interesting things we learned in our consumer research was that African-Americans ranked the new Avalon higher than other groups in every category," he said.