Does the Camry Need More Than Safety Upgrades from Toyota?

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Whenever automakers look at the leader board in passenger cars, it’s become an annual tradition to see the Toyota (NYSE:TM) Camry perched on top. In fact, Toyota will sell well above 400,000 Camrys in 2013 as it claims first prize again among U.S. car shoppers. As the automaker plans to debut its redesigned Camry, it appears Toyota is unfazed by style critiques but will make sure its lacking safety rating improves.

Bill Fay, Toyota’s head of U.S. sales, told the Associated Press on Thursday that the next-generation Camry will receive a boost in safety features but suggested there wouldn’t be much in the way of style upgrades for the famously vanilla sedan. The automaker plans to reveal more by December 20. While noting the success of the Camry in its current state of style, Fay reminded the AP that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Many beholders have determined the Camry be dull compared to the slightly sportier Honda (NYSE:HMC) Accord and more stylish Ford (NYSE:F) Fusion. The sales figures back up the claims. Both midsize sedan rivals have been gaining on previous year’s sales faster than the Camry as the year ends. However, the poor safety rating has probably hurt the Camry most.

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Consumer Reports was obliged to remove the Camry from its recommended list when the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2013 Camry a poor rating following its small overlap front crash test. The Honda Accord scored the highest rating in this IIHS test, which landed it a Top Safety Pick Plus designation.

Toyota’s Fay told the AP the front overlap would be strengthened in the 2015 Camry so that it could perform better in the IIHS test. Toyota’s logic would follow that the Camry was steadily outpacing the Honda Accord before the news about the IIHS crash test emerged. The Camry has outperformed its own 2012 sales by 6 percent in 2013, while the Accord is up 3 percent. Automotive News reported that Toyota incentives may also factor into the tally.

Meanwhile, the Ford Fusion — the best-looking of the three on several accounts — has sold a whopping 51 percent more this year than it did in 2012. While trailing both Honda and Toyota’s midsize stars by 55,000 and 100,000 units, respectively, the Fusion’s style is clearly appealing  to customers in the segment. The next Camry may ignore that factor as it strives to beat the Accord in next year’s sales race.

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