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After 40 years, Toyota still promoting Corolla

Toyota Corolla
The Corolla hit the market in 1966 when Japan's economy was finally taking off after the devastation of World War II and caught on with ordinary people buying their first car ever.

The car has been a perennial best-seller for Toyotoa, but it seems to be losing some of its luster partly because a core demographic that usually goes for the Corolla is growing old and consumers' preferences have become more diverse.

Against this backdrop, Toyota Motor Corp. needs to try harder to keep the Corolla at the top of the heap.

Industry analysts say the nation's top automaker cannot stop selling the product series because it is so closely entwined with Toyota's history.

A Toyota Corolla dealership in Nagoya remodeled its showroom in late September for the first time in some 40 years in preparation for the launch of the 10th-generation model.

The store, a two-story building with a primarily glass exterior, displays 2-meter-high panels with pictures of all of the Corolla models stretching back to the beginning.

The dealership is aiming the new model primarily at middle-aged and senior customers because the average age of Corolla buyers rises every time a new model is rolled out and many of them now are in their 50s and above.

"We have brightened the ambience of the store to entice (more) visitors," said manager Shigeharu Hosoi.

The 400 million yen renovation cost befits the showroom's ambitious sales goal. It aims to raise monthly sales of Corolla and other new cars to 90 units, an increase of about 40 percent.

As young consumers tend to prefer small cars other than the Corolla, the new model has been designed to meet the needs of older drivers, and is equipped with a rear-view camera to make parallel parking easier, Toyota officials said.

The Corolla has remained highly popular over the last four decades because Toyota has constantly managed to come up with the right concept to capture the consumers' imagination.

The company, for example, made its pitch for the first-generation Corolla released in 1966 with the catch phrase "100cc extra driving power." At the time, standard small cars sold by other carmakers, including Nissan Motor Co.'s Sunny, were powered by 1-liter engines, but the new Corolla had a 1.1-liter engine.

In 1987, the sixth-generation Corolla made waves with a plush exterior and interior that was almost on a par with luxury vehicles. Toyota said the new model was designed to match the comfort offered by its higher-end Crown.

Toyota claims it has been developing each model with the aim of achieving "above-average" levels of performance in every aspect of the car.

Thanks to that driving ambition, the Corolla finished first in annual sales in Japan from 1969 to 2005, except for 2002 when it was overtaken by the Fit, a small car marketed by Honda Motor Co.

Keeping the top position for so many years is quite a feat, considering all the many models by other carmakers that have fallen by the wayside.

But some industry analysts say the Corolla could now be facing leaner times.

The Corolla owes its long-lasting popularity to Toyota's decision-making stance not to be influenced by passing fads, and that stance worked well in attracting a large number of consumers not too fastidious about the choice of cars they buy, one analyst said.

"The age of the Corolla as consumers' all-time favorite is now over," one analyst said, noting the old strategy won't work any

An editor at a car magazine put it more bluntly: "Driving a Corolla is boring."

The editor argued that the Corolla is designed solely with all-around acceptability in mind, which makes it less exciting.

It is uncertain whether Toyota has settled with the 10th-generation Corolla for "great mediocrity," as put by an auto industry insider, or has completely reinvented the car as a new automotive sensation.

Toyota officials remain quite bullish and believe in the Corolla's "strategic importance in the global marketplace."

Even if the remodeled Corolla turns out to be boring to Japanese consumers, the company is shifting its sights from the saturated domestic market to emerging economies that have more room for growth.

The Japan Times

After 40 years, Toyota still promoting Corolla
Japanese Import Car, New & Used Car, 2007