PORTLAND, Ore. – When the all-new 2018 Camry midsize sedan goes on sale in July, Toyota will rely on a couple of tools the automaker is unaccustomed to using to defend its best-selling car: style and performance.
That's part of the reason 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and Toyota driver Kyle Busch squeezed a quick trip to the Camry introduction in Oregon into his schedule between a pair of races on the East Coast.
Long derided by car buffs for bland looks, the street car version of the new sedan looks more like its NASCAR counterpart than ever before, a point Busch hammered home.
"I like the aggressive styling of the nose," he said, suggesting that drivers for competitors Ford and Chevrolet know it means a faster car is closing on them, he said.
The all-new Camry uses Toyota's TNGA architecture, which also underpins the Prius hybrid and quirky C-HR, but the car is swimming against the tides of history.
The Camry been America's best-selling passenger vehicle for 18 of the past 19 years, but Americans are abandoning traditional sedans like the Camry in favor of SUVs.
"The Camry faces substantial headwinds. The market's in transition," KBB executive analyst Rebecca Lindland said.
Toyota is all but certain to sell more than 300,000 Camrys in the U.S. this year, but that's a significant drop from the 388,616 it sold last year and 429,355 in 2015.
The Nissan Rogue is America's bestselling passenger vehicle through May this year and is 13,901 units ahead of the Camry. It's likely the Rogue, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 SUVs will all top the best-selling sedan among passenger vehicles this year.
The race for best-selling passenger vehicle omits pickups, which outsell both sedans and SUVs, but are frequently used primarily for work.
"Every brand is playing defense in the car market," Joe Phillippi, principal of analyst AutoTrends said. "Toyota has to defend their market share in a declining segment. That means the new car has to be able to poach sales from other brands."
The Georgetown, Ky., plant that builds the Camry and larger Avalon sedan is Toyota's largest assembly plant globally. Toyota invested $1.3 billion to produce vehicles on the new architecture in Georgetown, which churns out a Camry every 26 seconds.
Having that much investment and production capacity tied up in a plant that builds vehicles the market is turning away from gives automakers the heebie jeebies.
It's one of the reasons Toyota President Akio Toyoda said he felt "a sense of crisis" when company's net income fell 21 percent despite higher vehicle sales in the company's latest fiscal year, which ended March 31.
Enter the boldly styled new Camry.
An early look at Toyota's advertising for the 2018 Camry revealed an emphasis on style, safety technology and women owners and drivers.
It's by far the most daring and attractive Camry in the car's 34 years in production. A lower hood, wider stance and lower roof combine with the aggressive race-track honed grille and a longer wheelbase to create a midsize sedan that compares well to design leaders like the Chevrolet Malibu Ford Fusion and Nissan Maxima.
"Toyota was the Baby Boomers' brand, but they're aging out of their era of market domination" Lindland said. "Toyota needs more expressive design to reach out to their children. They have to differentiate this car from generations of Camrys that were the new buyers' parents' cars. This Camry has significantly more charisma."
Toyota's sales pitch will lean heavily on a long list of safety and driver assistance features that includes pedestrian detection, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure assist, automatic high beams and blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts.
Toyota will offer three drivetrains: a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, revised 3.5L V6 and a gasoline-electric hybrid.
A new eight-speed automatic transmission is standard with the 2.5L and 3.5L while the hybrids get Toyota's usual continuously variable transmission.
While the 2018 Camry comes to market with hot looks, it has no unique new features or technical firsts.
In fact, some features that have been common on the competition are missing, including Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – popular systems that make it easier and safer to use smartphones while driving.
Toyota also stuck with its traditional lineup of relatively big four-cylinder engines and even bigger V6s while many competitors move to smaller, turbocharged engines.