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Toyota to revamp America's top-selling car amid boom in SUVs

Posted December 1

— Toyota plans to reveal a new version of America's top-selling sedan next month at a time when U.S. buyers are moving away from cars toward SUVs and trucks.

The Japanese automaker said Thursday that it would show off the 2018 Camry at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January. It is likely to arrive in showrooms late next summer.

Toyota gave few details about the eighth-generation Camry, which last was redesigned for the 2013 model year. Typically Toyota redesigns the interior, exterior and suspension, but it also has added new engines and transmissions.

A teaser photo of the car shows a more rakish, sportier look, something the Camry has lacked for years.

Sales of cars have been slumping as consumers take advantage of cheap gasoline and buy SUVs and trucks. Experts are not expecting gas prices to rise significantly anytime soon. For the past three months, trucks and SUVs were around 60 percent of U.S. sales, an unprecedented streak that industry analysts do not expect to end.

Toyota is hoping the new version will boost Camry sales, which are down 9.4 percent to just over 355,000 through November. While they concede the car may soon be outsold by Toyota's RAV4 small SUV, they expect Camry to remain the top-selling sedan for the foreseeable future.

So far this year, Toyota has sold nearly 315,000 RAV4s. The Camry for several months has been outsold by the Honda CR-V, another small SUV. But the car still is solidly in first place as the most popular vehicle in America that isn't a pickup truck.

"It's possible that Camry would be the No. 1 sedan, but the No. 1 Toyota could be a RAV4," said Bob Carter, Toyota's senior vice president of auto operations.

A redesigned Camry should boost sales in a declining segment, but it might not help the Camry that much since competitors already are sleek and sporty, said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for the LMC Automotive consulting firm.

"They are very late to the game from a styling and performance perspective," Schuster said. "Unless there's some new technology that leapfrogs them over cars today, it's going to be really challenging to get much of a lift out of the new vehicle."

Midsize cars have declined from around 2.4 million in U.S. sales in the early 2000s to around 2.2 million expected this year, Schuster said. Due to the decline, the Camry probably won't return to the 430,000 sales it had in 2015, he said.

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