The "exciting" and "provocative" new compact sedan from Toyota comes in a squat, sloped package with bulging fenders, carbon-fiber accents and massive 19-inch alloy wheels.
This is the ... Corolla?
It's the Corolla Furia concept, at least, unwrapped for the public on Monday at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
"It builds on the brand's product development priority to develop more dramatic, expressively designed vehicles," the company said in a release, reflecting the stated desire of Akio Toyoda, chief executive and president, for Toyota to produce spicier cars.
Since 1968, the Corolla has sold millions of copies with its unwavering embrace of the practical -- some might call the current model plain, even homely. But the company now speaks, somewhat self-consciously, in soaring terms of its new focus on aggressive styling.
"Iconic Dynamism" is how the fuddy-duddy automaker, heretofore steeped in styling understatements, describes the design language of the Corolla Furia concept. Bill Fay, Toyota's group vice president and general manager, acknowledges the Furia design study "will surprise a lot of people."
How much of that dynamism makes its way into the production model remains to be seen, and Toyota offered no details on plans for horsepower, torque and handling capabilities. Nor did the company say when the next Corolla will hit the street (or if the Furia name will see production).
But the Corolla, last redesigned for 2008, is overdue for an overhaul. The current version shows it age, both in the dated exterior and old-school trappings such as its four-speed automatic transmission. Competitors including the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus now offer five- or six-speed automatics or continuously variable transmissions that boost fuel economy.
The current Corolla "is old in the segment of small vehicles that have gotten a lot of attention in the past few years," said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com.
Toyota sold about 291,000 Corollas last year, making it one of the top selling passenger cars and second in the compact car market only to Honda Civic, which had sales of about 318,000. If there was a knock on Corolla, it was that about 20% of sales were to fleet customers such as rental car agencies, Caldwell said, an uncharacteristically high number for a Toyota product.
"This car is very important to Toyota," Caldwell said. "With the explosion of subcompact cars in the past few years, coupled with the demise of large cars, compact cars suddenly find themselves as the 'middle size' for American consumers. I think we'll see compact cars gaining in popularity no matter where gas prices end up."
With the No. 2 seller in the segment after the Honda Civic, Toyota is well positioned with a nameplate familiar to consumers and likely to end up on shopping lists, she said. Despite its age, it was one of the best-selling cars in the U.S. in 2012.
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