Image: 2012 Toyota Camry
Paul Sancya  /  AP
The 2012 Toyota Camry is unveiled during a news conference in Dearborn, Mich.
msnbc.com news services
updated 8/23/2011 5:59:52 PM ET 2011-08-23T21:59:52

Toyota unveiled the first redesign of its midsize Camry sedan in five years Tuesday, aiming to solidify the car’s lead in the increasingly competitive midsize family sedan class.

The seventh-generation, 2012 version of the Camry is loaded with new technology and other upgrades and a reduced price as Toyota looks to maintain the car’s position as the nation’s best-selling sedan for the past decade. The Camry faces increasingly stiff competition from the likes of the Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion and longtime rival Honda Accord.

“Despite all of the enhancements to the all-new Camry, prices for all popular models have been reduced,” said Bob Carter, Toyota group vice president and general manager. “Competing in the industry’s most competitive segment, we expect the Camry to continue as America’s best-selling car.”

The changes drew a restrained initial reaction in the trade press, with Automotive News noting that Toyota "played it safe" in the redesign with absolutely no change in dimensions.

Toyota is counting on improved fuel economy with a new hybrid powertrain, a more elegant interior and streamlined manufacturing to continue the Camry's dominance of the mid-sized segment, the trade publication said.

The irreverent auto blog Jalopnik said, "even in red, it's still just as beige as you'd expect it to be."

The all-new Camry and Camry Hybrid will come in four different model grades — the entry-level L, value-driven LE, premium XLE and sporty SE grades. The Camry Hybrid will be offered in LE and XLE grades.

The hybrid model includes a new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces a combined 200 horsepower and offers an impressive 43 miles per gallon in the city. The new Camry models will reach Toyota dealers in October, while the new Camry Hybrid models will arrive in November.

Before Tuesday Toyota had released few details about the new car, which was unveiled at simultaneous events in California, Michigan and at the Georgetown, Ky., plant where the Camry is made. The Camry will carry an entertainment system called Entune, which lets drivers connect to mobile applications such as Pandora. It will arrive in U.S. showrooms this October.

Analysts say competition from Camry rivals has never been stronger. The Hyundai Sonata has been praised for its sharp styling, fuel economy and price tag — it starts at $500 less than the 2011 Camry — while General Motors will soon release a redesigned Chevrolet Malibu. The Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord are also closing in on Camry's lead.

"The Camry is not a slam-dunk by itself anymore," said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for car pricing site TrueCar.com.

Toyota has struggled through the recent recession, a major recall crisis and the production and supply problems that followed the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Through July of this year, Toyota has sold 174,485 Camrys, down 8 percent from the same period in 2010. That's still 20,000 more than its closest rival, the Nissan Altima, even with supply shortages this spring and summer caused by the earthquake in Japan.

Toyota introduced the Camry in the U.S. in 1983 to compete with the Honda Accord. It quickly became a big seller because of its reputation for reliability and good gas mileage. The Camry outsold the Ford Taurus in 1997. It has been the best-selling car in America ever since, except for 2001, when it was outsold by the Accord.

Story: Ford, Toyota to work together on hybrid trucks

Even the safety recalls of 2010 — in which Toyota recalled hundreds of thousands of Camrys because of sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats — didn't knock it down from No. 1. But the car's sales fell 8 percent that year, while sales of the Hyundai Sonata rose 64 percent.

Toprak said the new Camry will satisfy current owners who want to trade in their cars. But it could have a tough time attracting new customers. Toprak said the Camry and the Accord have lost sales to competitors in part because they stuck with bland styling while other automakers took chances with their designs.

“They are safe vehicles that have nothing fundamentally wrong with them, but they don’t promote excitement,” he said. “That is one of those elements you need to attract younger buyers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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