Opinion: Is Toyota sending out mixed messages? green scene auto articles auto brands
Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion Hybrid and Honda Insight. Click image to enlarge

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By Grant Yoxon; photos by Bill Petro

Kingston, Ontario – Faced with increasing competition from competitors who claim to have the most fuel-efficient mid-sized vehicle (Ford’s Fusion hybrid) or the most affordable hybrid (Honda’s Insight hybrid), Toyota apparently decided that enough was enough and invited journalists to drive both the Insight and Fusion alongside their all new 2010 Prius hybrid.

We took the challenge and in a competition aimed at getting the best economy from all three, my co-driver Lorne Drury from the Metroland Media Group and I managed to get 5.3 Litres per 100 kilometres from the Fusion, 4.3 L/100 km from the Insight and 3.4 L/100 km from the Prius – a result that proved to be the best that day. For our efforts, Lorne and I were rewarded with a coffee shop gift card.

Naturally, it was a very leisurely drive through the streets of Kingston. And I can assure you that we were as light on the gas pedal with the Fusion and Insight as we were with the Prius. We had nothing more to prove other than we could drive three vehicles more efficiently than any other pair of journalists.

Opinion: Is Toyota sending out mixed messages? green scene auto articles auto brands
Opinion: Is Toyota sending out mixed messages? green scene auto articles auto brands
2010 Toyota Camry LE (top); 2009 Toyota Highlander base four-cylinder. Click image to enlarge

The event in Kingston not only showcased Toyota’s fuel efficient new Prius, but also focused on the company’s new four-cylinder models (See Chris Chase’s review of the 2010 Camry four-cylinder and Highlander FWD four-cylinder). The addition of a fully-loaded four-cylinder XLE Camry and a new entry-level four-cylinder Highlander are part of Toyota’s strategy to offer consumers more fuel efficient choices in desirable models. Of course, this strategy was initiated at a time when fuel prices were much higher than they are today.

It may look like bad timing on Toyota’s part, but the company is betting that when the economy turns around and people start buying cars again, that fuel prices will also return to pre-recession levels and the new four-cylinder models will be much in demand. In the meantime, the four-cylinder models offer less expensive alternatives to six cylinder models that may provide more power than a buyer needs.

Fuel efficiency has always been an important priority for Toyota and the new four cylinder engines provide better fuel efficiency without sacrificing power, in fact providing better power than the outgoing fours. And the new Camry XLE four-cylinder offers full-on luxury without sacrificing fuel efficiency.

In the Camry line, offering the four-cylinder in XLE trim is a good strategy because most buyers don’t want to give up comfort and convenience features for fuel efficiency. Toyota calls it “our more power, less fuel, no compromise philosophy.” Consumers are environmentally conscious to a point. They want to make the right choice, but as Stephen Beatty, Managing Director, Toyota Canada Inc. told auto writers in Kingston, “everyday drivers… are looking for an easy way to do the right thing.” Offering fuel efficient fours in luxury trim makes an easy choice.

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