Two years ago, Toyota came face-to-face with the new automotive reality. Long the best-selling car in its line-up – and the country’s fourth best-seller overall – the Camry suddenly was brushed aside by the Toyota RAV4 as demand for SUVs and CUVs rapidly overwhelmed sales of sedans and other passenger cars.
The most radical shift in the U.S. automotive market in decades has seen manufacturers like Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler all but abandon the sedan market. For its part, Toyota says it remains committed to its passenger car line-up. And to help bolster demand, the Japanese automaker is lifting a page out of the SUV handbook by adding all-wheel-drive options on models such as Camry, Avalon and the Prius.
Toyota has not offered all-wheel-drive on the Camry since 1991 and Toyota’s engineers back in Japan initially nixed the idea when they introduced a new generation of the midsize sedan using the TNGA platform when it was introduced in 2018. However, Toyota Motor North America continued to argue that the addition of the all-wheel-drive feature would make the cars more appealing to consumers in the United States, TMNA officials said.
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Toyota officials noted during a recent briefing on the Camry’s new all-wheel-drive system that demand for the traction-enhancing technology has increased significantly — playing a major role in boosting the popularity of SUVs and crossovers. Until recently, midsized-sedan customers have had relatively few choices if they wanted AWD.
Helen Updengraff, general manager vehicle marketing and communications, said Toyota has every intention of staying in the sedan and passenger-car market and adding the all-wheel-drive system on key products such as the Camry and the Avalon will give buyers more options.
The all-wheel-drive version of the Camry will reach dealerships at the end of March, said Tom Kretschmann, a TMNA production technology education planner, while the all-wheel-drive version of the Avalon will go on sale next autumn.
Externally, there will be few, if any cues that the passenger car models will get AWD. The ground clearance for both the Camry and Avalon equipped with AWD will remain the same, Kretschmann added.
There are many different AWD technologies available now, but Toyota decided to go with the AWD system already in use on the 2019 RAV4 for the Camry and Avalon. What Toyota is describing as a dynamic torque control system will deliver effective traction for inclement and slippery weather while minimizing any kind of fuel-economy penalty, Kretschmann said.
The system on Camry and Avalon will deliver up to 50% of the engine power through a single-speed transfer case that delivers power to the rear wheels when engaged. Torque can only be distributed in equal amounts to the two rear wheels, he said.
When the AWD system isn’t needed, such as on long stretches of highway, the electromagnetic coupling on the on the front of the axle can disengage from the propeller shaft powering the rear wheels in order to reduce fuel consumption.
The system is designed to re-engage in an instant, when needed, and the operation is transparent to the driver and passenger, Toyota representatives said.
On the new 2020 Toyota Highlander and the RAV4 TRD, RAV4 Adventure and RAV4 Limited, Toyota also is bringing on a dynamic torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system that is capable of directing torque from the system to the left- or right-rear wheel as the situation demands. Typically, this will occur during cornering, extra power going to the outer wheels to help steer through the turn.
As for the gas-electric RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid, Kretschmann said Toyota is equipping them with a new electronic-on-demand all-wheel-drive system that doesn’t utilize a transfer case but has a rear axle controlled electronically via an electric motor.
That approach is similar to the AWD system that was first offered on the Prius. That hybrid’s system only operates at speeds up to around 43 mph.