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Toyota Announces Makeover Of Its Flagship Car


For the last decade, Americans have had a love affair with SUVs while full-sized sedans have become known as the grandparent car. In this environment, Toyota is announcing a makeover to its flagship sedan, a car that is still important to Toyota's future. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: All right, it's the big car show here in Detroit, and I'm here to watch the unveiling of one of the most important cars on the road for Toyota. Now, is it a Formula One race car, a sleek SUV or a super-fast, all-electric, self-driving car - nope, nope and nope.


JACK HOLLIS: The all-new 2019 Toyota Avalon you're about to see is more than the sum of its parts.

GLINTON: Now, that's Jack Hollis. He's in charge of sales at Toyota. Hollis is selling this vehicle as a sporty, comfortable car with all the tech. Let's go back to the pitch.


HOLLIS: Now, are you ready? Apple CarPlay is finally standard.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Jack, well done - finally.

HOLLIS: Yeah, whatever, whatever. We know. We know. We got it. Hey, look; it took us a while, folks. You've all been asking for it. But it's here.


GLINTON: Now, this is where the Avalon arrives. They drive it onto the stage. They play music you can never actually imagine coming out of Avalon speakers. Then the reporters, analysts and executives storm the stage, including Jake Fisher, head of auto testing at Consumer Reports.

JAKE FISHER: Well, it's interesting that they're packing a lot of technology into the Avalon. I'm not sure exactly if that's the right market. When you look at Avalon buyers, you know, I think what's important to them is room and comfort and quietness. And they didn't talk a lot about that today.

GLINTON: He says Toyota is always cautious but especially with its big-selling cars.

FISHER: Toyota is always kind of late to the game when it comes to technology, and it's not by accident. It's because reliability is the No. 1 thing that sells Toyotas, and that's what the people buying Toyotas really care about - not the latest and the greatest, not necessarily any of that stuff.

GLINTON: Fisher says Toyota so dominates the market in the U.S. it can't really afford to abandon full-size sedans. This announcement hedges against the future and worries that President Trump might walk out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Avalon is and has always been Toyota's most American car, and it'll only get more so. It's completely designed in the U.S. while other Toyotas have more parts from Mexico or Canada. After talking with a bunch of analysts, I got a few minutes with Toyota's Jack Hollis.

HOLLIS: Is it a tougher market - totally. But great products still sell. Great sedans still sell. I think we'll be putting out a great sedan.

GLINTON: You know that phrase, always be closing? Well, that's Jack Hollis with his Toyota Avalon.

HOLLIS: And I promise. You get in that car, and you drive it like the way you want to drive it exactly. And you're going to say, damn, this is good. And it will exceed your expectations beyond. And that's what I think any customer gets in this car - that's why I'm selling it that way because when you see a name and you see what it's been before - is not what it's going to be in the future.

GLINTON: Not to be cheeky, but has anyone really ever gotten in a Toyota and been like, damn, this is good?

HOLLIS: Oh, totally, man. You have got to hang out with me more often.

GLINTON: Well, it'll be up to the marketplace to decide. The Avalon comes out next year. From the floor of the North American International Auto Show, Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATURAL-SELF SONG, "IN THE MORNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.