Autos

Will This New Camry Stake Out a Bold Direction for Toyota?

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As the U.S. midsize car market continues to intensify, Toyota  says its new Camry will make waves in the industry on a level not usually seen in mid-cycle upgradesBloomberg reports. Consumers should expect more aggressive (if not adventurous) styling in the Camry set to debut at the 2014 New York International Auto Show, and company officials are confident the changes will be enough to keep its midsize darling the top selling car in the United States for years to come.

A spokesperson for Toyota told Bloomberg the Camry “will challenge conventional expectations of a mid-cycle model change” when it gets its closeup in New York on April 16. Industry analysts expect a full redesign in 2017 at the earliest, but the Japanese automaker has decided to make its next update more noteworthy amid complaints of lackluster styling and a poor assessment by Consumer Reports.

Criticism of the current Camry’s looks and safety features have fallen on deaf ears among U.S. consumers, who made the automobile the top seller for the twelfth straight year through 2013. More than 408,000 Camrys were purchased by American buyers last year, nearly 42,000 more than the second-place Honda  Accord. Yet Toyota has seen a surge from competitors. The Camry gained less than 1 percent in 2013 over the previous year’s sales while Honda posted nearly 11 percent gains with its AccordFord  notched 22 percent more sales in 2013 with its Fusion sedan.

Through the early months of 2014, the Nissan (NSANY.PK) Altima has been the top seller in the U.S., adding a fourth contender to the fold. Nonetheless, Toyota officials plan for the Camry to be back in its top spot by year’s end.

Some analysts suggested Toyota resorted to overspending on incentives last summer to keep the Camry in the top spot, but company executives chafed at the idea. Bob Carter, senior VP of U.S. sales, said at the time the “bottom line is the Camry’s No. 1 because it’s a great car.”

Camry sales speak for themselves, but new arrivals such as the 2015 Chrysler (FIATY.PK) 200 and Hyundai (HYMLF.PK) Sonata (also set for a NY auto show debut) could bite into the Camry’s dominance. One Toyota official told Bloomberg the company was “probably a little too conservative” in its last Camry that debuted in 2011. Since then, the Honda Accord has narrowed the sales gap.

Toyota knows it can’t mess too much with a thing that appeals to over 400,000 new American buyers every year. The question is how much it can afford to play it safe in light of the midsize wars that appear headed to U.S. soil this summer.

Wall St. Cheat Sheet will provide coverage from the New York International Auto Show beginning April 16.