The new Toyota Crown doesn’t readily fit into any conventional category. It’s taller than your typical sedan, with the sort of high seating position that’s convinced millions of American motorists to switch to SUVs and CUVs. But it’s got a three-box, four-door design that doesn’t slot into the utility segment, either.
And that’s just fine as far as the Japanese automaker is concerned. Like most manufacturers, Toyota has long been searching for the “next big thing” and, if the big Crown clicks with buyers, it “could” set the stage for a major shift in the design direction of other Toyota passenger car models, such as the Corolla and Camry, says Joe Moses, head of marketing for Toyota North America.
An old name in a new market
Though new to the U.S. market, the Crown name has been around for a long time. It was introduced in 1955 on Toyota’s first mass-market vehicle line. Over the decades, it’s been used for some of the largest and most luxurious products sold in the Japanese home market.
Toyota belatedly decided to introduce the Crown name to the American market as it phases out the brand’s long-running flagship sedan, the Avalon. While introducing a new nameplate can be costly and challenging, it gives Toyota the chance to reposition Avalon’s replacement.
Since giving the public a first glimpse of the new model earlier this year, media, analysts and consumers have struggled to define the new offering. While Crown has roughly the same wheelbase and width as the outgoing Avalon, it stands 3.6 inches taller and measures about 2 inches shorter, bumper-to-bumper. It also boasts a sportier appearance, with the sort of coupe-like roofline that’s become increasingly common in the crossover segment.
But it also has a traditional trunk, rather than a hatchback, Toyota officials emphasize.
A big challenge
“One of our biggest challenges was (figuring out) how to position Crown,” acknowledges Moses. But, as the automaker launches a major national ad campaign, he adds, “We’re unapologetically calling this a sedan.”
While not quite a dirty word, “sedan” is a term that more and more automakers have been walking away from. And for good reason. At the beginning of the millennium, four-door models overwhelmingly dominated the U.S. market. Today, they’re down to barely 20% — and large sedans like Avalon generated just 0.7% of American new vehicle sales during the first half of 2022, according to Statista.com.
A number of familiar sedan models have been dropped during the last few years, including the Chevrolet Impala, the Hyundai Azera, the Ford Fusion and the Volkswagen Passat.
“Not everyone wants an SUV”
Some manufacturers have steadfastly remained in the sedan segment, hoping to capture a larger segment of a smaller pie. But even some of those holdouts are having second thoughts. Hyundai dropped the Accent for the 2023 model year and there’ve been reports that its Sonata and Elantra could drive off into the sunset, as well, if sales continue tumbling.
That said, Toyota product planners are hoping that they can rebuild interest in sedans with the Crown. “Not everyone wants to jump into an SUV,” said Moses.
Whether the new model’s distinctive design and dimensions will help revive interest in sedans is far from certain, cautions Sam Fiorani, the lead analyst with AutoForecast Solutions. But “(e)very manufacturer has been looking for the next big thing to break them out of the pack.”
Not the first
Toyota’s far from the first to try coming up with a new formula. In the past few decades, Mitsubishi and Subaru have tried their own tall wagon and sedan designs, albeit with little success. Pontiac and Chevrolet tried to find an acceptable blend of minivan and SUV — and didn’t fare any better.
But, says Fiorani, “Perhaps the timing is right now.” SUVs have become so commonplace, he and other analysts suggest, buyers just might be open to something new.
That said, Toyota is taking a cautious approach with Crown. It’s importing the new model from Japan, rather than taking over space on the Georgetown, Kentucky assembly line where Avalon had been built. But that could change if the new sedan catches on.
Crown could influence future versions of Corolla, Camry
Indeed, by “pushing the limits of the word, ‘sedan,’” Toyota is hoping it can create a new market niche that, said Moses “could influence future product designs. That could help stave off the continuing decline of once powerful nameplate like Corolla and Camry.
The 2023 Toyota Crown will start at $41,045 — including $1,095 in delivery fees. The top-line Platinum package will start at $53,445.