Toyota celebrates 60-year U.S. auto run

Toyota’s first model in the U.S. was the 1957 Toyopet Crown, a slow seller. (Toyota)

From a funny-looking Toyopet Crown, which got Toyota almost laughed off the U.S. market before it really got started in the late 1950s, to today’s perennial sales-leading Camry sedan, the Japanese firm has established an iconic presence alongside Ford, GM and Chrysler in this country’s automotive scene.

Toyota this fall is celebrating its 60th anniversary in the U.S. It started Oct. 31, 1957, in a 3,000-square-foot, one-time Rambler dealership in Hollywood, Calif.

The 2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE sedan. (Bud Wells photo)

In observance of its anniversary, I’ve driven a 2018 Camry Hybrid. Since 2000 and the introduction of the Prius, Toyota has been the leading seller of gas/electric hybrid cars in the U.S.

Toyota operates 10 manufacturing facilities in this country, has nearly 1,500 Toyota and Lexus dealerships and 136,000 direct, dealer and supplier U.S. employees. The company has unified its engineering, sales, marketing, financial services and corporate functions in one location in Plano, Texas.

At its start in California, Toyota offered two models, the Toyopet and the Land Cruiser. The Corolla followed in the early ‘60s, the Celica and Supra in the ‘70s and Camry and 4Runner in the ‘80s.

By the end of 1975, Toyota surpassed Volkswagen to become the No. 1 import brand in the United States.

Among memorable Toyota models I’ve driven and reviewed over the past 40 years are a 1980 Celica USGP (United States Grand Prix), 1981 small diesel pickup which averaged 27 miles per gallon, the extremely quick ’93 Supra Turbo (it went from Franktown to Castle Rock in about five blinks), the new Prius Hybrid in 2000, the tough little Tacoma truck, the recent introduction of the quirky C-HR and many others.

Since that first Prius hybrid showed up in 2000, Toyota has led sales of gas/electric hybrids. The Prius, Ford Fusion hybrid and Toyota RAV4 are top sellers after 10 months of this year, followed by a new entry, the Kia Niro. Following are the top 10 hybrids in sales at the beginning of November:

Toyota Prius Liftback 55,443; Ford Fusion 49,764; Toyota RAV4 41,364; Kia Niro 22,605; Honda Accord 19,262; Toyota Camry 15,369; Toyota Highlander 13,865; Toyota Prius C 10,607; Hyundai Ioniq 8,997; Hyundai Sonata 8,472; Ford C-Max 8,331; Toyota Prius V 8,299; Lexus RX450h 6,848; Lincoln MKZ 4,990; Lexus CT200h 4,673; Lexus ES 4,337; Toyota Avalon 4,215; Chevrolet Malibu 3,799; Kia Optima 3,126; Lexus NX 2,161.

The 2017 Toyota 4Runner at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch early this year. (Bud Wells)

Of the top 20 sellers of hybrid models, 11 of them are either Toyota or Lexus products.

The 2018 Camry Hybrid XLE four-door sports a large, new smiley grille up front and a neat, swept-back look at the rear. The review model was finished in blue crush metallic exterior and brightened on the interior with light-colored leather and a moonroof.

The gas engine is a 176-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder mated to a much-improved continuously variable transmission. The electric motor is of 188 horsepower; horsepower rating for the combined system is 208. The XLE’s nickel-metal hydride battery pack is stored under the seat, leaving normal cargo space in the trunk. A lithium-ion battery pack is available in a cheaper, lighter version of the Camry, with resultant fuel mileage sometimes exceeding 50.

The Camry Hybrid XLE averages around 45 miles per gallon, whether driving around the city or cruising on the highway. The only decline from that high figure occurred twice, both times when I pulled onto E470 and increased speed to the 75 to 80 pace from a 65-miles-per-hour pace on U.S. 85. Overall average was 45.1 mpg.

It develops excellent torque with the instant response of the electric motor, and spurts out quickly with a punch of the throttle.

The Camry provides a nice ride, softened some by a new, double-wishbone-style multilink rear suspension with stabilizer bar, sport-tuned shocks and springs. It rides on Hankook Synergy 235/45R18 tires.

This year’s Camry Hybrid’s wheelbase of 111.2 inches is 2 inches longer than last year’s model. It has curb weight of 3,549 pounds, slightly less than a year ago.

Sticker price on the Camry Hybrid XLE is $37,255, including driver assist package and rearview camera for safety, adaptive headlights and an Entune audio and navigation.



1978 Toyota Corolla (Bud Wells/1978)

(Following are excerpts from my first review of a Toyota product, the Corolla SR-5 Liftback, in The Denver Post of June 3, 1978:)

A good-running, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and an easy-shifting, 5-speed overdrive transmission were most impressive features in a two-week test drive of a bright yellow 1978 Toyota Corolla SR-5 Liftback.

The engine isn’t the quickest 4-cylinder on the road, but it’s a sure-starter and has absolutely no stalling tendency when cold. Gas-mileage checks were 21.2 miles per gallon for town driving and 31.4 for highway.

A fuse for the windshield wiper was blown trying to clear too heavy a load of snow, and I discovered the fuse box can be accessed without leaving the driver’s seat – at the bottom of the dash to the left of the driver.

The car was priced at $5,356.25, including base price of $4,638, $114.25 for freight from Portland, $490 for air conditioner, $75 for rear wiper and washer and $39 for all-weather-guard package.

Wheelbase of the Corolla is 93.3 inches, with overall length at 170 inches.