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by Tim Beissmann

A few numbers just keep popping up whenever Toyota’s Hybrid Camry is mentioned:

  • 2010, February – launch date
  • $35 million – taxpayer-funded investment from the Federal Government’s Green Car Innovation Fund
  • $35 million – taxpayer-funded investment from the Victorian Government
  • 35 percent – purported fuel saving over its ‘six-cylinder rivals’ (if, in fact, it has any in-class six-cylinder rivals)
  • 6.0 – expected fuel consumption, combined-cycle litres/100km
  • < 150 – g/km CO2 emissions
  • 0.27 – drag coefficient, the lowest of any Australian-built car
  • 389 – size in litres of the new boot, down from 535 litres, but apparently still large enough to fit…
  • …4 – golf bags (but probably not the clubs, or sand buckets)

But one other number stands out above all of these:

  • 10,000 – the number of Hybrid Camry’s Toyota will produce for the domestic market (including 300 for New Zealand)

So who’s going to be driving them all?

Victorian Premier John Brumby has already committed his government to one-fifth of the first year run, which leaves 8000 for non-government buyers in 2010, while the word from Toyota is that fleet pre-orders have already been very strong.

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However, in the first 11 months of 2009, just 3891 hybrid vehicles have been sold in Australia, representing 0.59 percent of the total non-commercial market. (Comparative figures for 2008 stood at 4732 hybrids from a total market of 748,846 vehicles.)

The total US new vehicle market in 2008 reached 13.2 million – more than 13 times the record one million figure set in Australia. There, the Hybrid Camry made up just 46,272 of these, around 4.5 times Toyota Australia’s ambitious target for next year.

Toyota Australia’s senior executive director of sales and marketing, David Buttner, isn’t concerned the numbers seem ambitious. “We launched Prius I in 2001, four years after the global launch of the product.  We’ve been averaging with Gen II about 300 a month and with Gen III we’re about the same storyline.

“So while hybrid represents a small proportion of the overall Australian marketplace now, the proportion that’s represented is always dependent upon the number of offerings in the marketplace. So it might only be 4000 [hybrid sales] this year, but with any new entrant in the marketplace, regardless of what it is, we are always looking for incrementality,” he said.

He noted that Toyota globally sold two million hybrids in its first 12 years with the technology, then just under 500,000 in 2008, and now has aspirations to sell one million next year and finally to have a hybrid in every model in the decade commencing 2020.

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In Australia the Hybrid Camry’s closest rival appears to be the Honda Civic Hybrid which at $35,990* should be similarly priced. With a combined-cycle fuel economy of 4.6 litres/100km and CO2 emissions of 109g/km, the Civic will be the more frugal of the two. But the Camry is bigger and considerably more powerful (140kW vs 85kW).

At 6.0 litres/100km combined and 159g/km CO2, the Hyundai i30cw SLX CRDi wagon is, environmentally speaking, another close competitor. Storage capacity is also 26 litres larger and at $29,890* the Korean will be at least $3000 less expensive than the Hybrid Camry.

The Skoda Octavia RS TDI matches the i30 for fuel economy and emissions exactly, and has just 15kW less the Camry. But with a starting price of $40,290* for the six-speed automatic ($37,990* for the manual) it is likely to be marginally more expensive than the local offering.

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Earlier this week Mr Buttner stated his ambitions for the hybrid to become the “halo car” of the Camry brand. “And to do that I believe you need to have a focus on private sales and you need to try to appeal to private customers.”

He said approaching 40 percent of private share for the hybrid was the goal for the future. “I’d like to think that we’d try to get close to 30-odd percent private share next year and then look to the future of 35-38 percent overall,” he said.

He admitted that significant effort has been expended on educating people about hybrid technology. “What we’ve been trying to do this year in the lead up to Gen III Prius and also Hybrid Camry is really trying to dispel some of the myths in the marketplace. You know, ‘You have to take it home at night and plug it into the wall’, ‘The battery dies on you every three years and it’s going to cost you a fortune to replace’.”

And he confirmed that Australians are becoming much more aware of hybrids, what’s on offer and exactly how they work. “The recognition of what HSD means has grown from 7 to 28 percent [for the other 72 percent of you, that’s Hybrid Synergy Drive], and [recognition of] the fact that Toyota sells a hybrid has grown from about 29 to 71 percent,” he said.

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Finally, he admitted that a significant proportion of Hybrid Camry sales are likely to come from buyers who would have purchased another Toyota, but said it was an inescapable reality of expanding the brand.

“We can’t be naive and bury our heads in the sand and say ‘There won’t be any substitution’.  There will always be some degree of substitution, but you always try to increment your volume as you go. Our current estimates are at about 50 percent substitution from its family, so it will have some impact, but it’s hard to estimate. At the end of the day the market will dictate what happens.”

Slightly less than one in four motor vehicles sold in Australia bears the Toyota badge, so you’d have to admit the company is very good at picking the market. By June 2010 we’ll know whether the Hybrid Camry is just another smart call by the Australian automotive landscape’s biggest player.




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