Bumpy roads, crossovers, saloons, changing tastes, criticisms – like Ireland, the Toyota Corolla seems to take them all in its stride
Eddie Cunningham talks to the man responsible for the latest Toyota saloon, which has sold 40 million worldwide
AMIDST all the talk of new-car trends – and 'crossover' is the current buzz word – one simple figure emerges from the sales sheets.
A Toyota Corolla saloon is sold somewhere in the world every two minutes. Make that 100,000 a month. Make it 40 million since they started production.
Shinichi Yasui is chief engineer of the latest – the 11th generation.
He is the modern day 'Mr Corolla' (and responsible for the Auris too). He flew from Japan to be here yesterday to mark more than just the dealer launch of the new saloon.
It rarely happens that such a senior engineer visits a country for a launch.
In this case it is in recognition of how we Irish buyers have, in our own way (we've bought 200,000 of them), contributed to the Corolla's success.
It is his first visit here – he flies back today – but he makes me laugh when he speaks of the 'long history' of the 'bumpy road'. That is a reference to a time when Toyota tested their cars' suspensions for the European market on tough and rough west-of-Ireland roads.
Now they can replicate the conditions back home.
Shinichi Yasui (born April 1, 1963) joined Toyota in 1988 and has held a broad range of positions since. He has been closely associated with the Corolla for years.
This is the 40th year the Toyota distributors here have been selling cars. Back in 1973, Toyota's arrival marked its own revolution in Irish motoring. The K20, the first Corolla sold here, became a favourite. The 4dr version had a radio, rear-screen heater and a locking petrol cap – such equipment was virtually unheard of on a family car. And it didn't give trouble. At a time when so many others did, a car that always started and kept on going was a popular commodity.
Now there is a new revolution afoot and this time Toyota, like everyone else, is responding.
'Mr Corolla' has gone and listened to what customers in many, many markets are saying.
"Everyone said the same thing: It (the old Corolla) is boring and unexciting. They wanted more dynamic cars. Of course they also want reliability, quality and the brand image."
It has heralded big changes. The emphasis for this new Corolla is on three core elements: design, performance and fuel efficiency.
"Priority Number One was design. And we increased the wheelbase by 100mm so the car gives good, dynamic feel."
A lower centre of gravity was factored in for better handling.
"Toyota will be making far more dynamic cars. We have listened to our customers."
And crossovers? Saloons continue to sell in huge numbers, especially in Ireland, emerging countries and the US (where their drivers have a much lower age profile), the trend to less clearly defined motors has to be recognised. There is a Corolla 'crossover' under consideration but no timeframe on it yet.
He keeps mentioning Europe's culture for cars. Even in a crisis people want to keep up to date, he says, and believes the sales nosedive has bottomed out. Again, he emphasises: "They need cars with driving performance, agility."
Yes, they have re-tuned the Corolla for our European tastes, bumpy roads and all.
No, there will not be a Corolla hybrid. There is one in the Auris.
Again and again he speaks of customer loyalty – generally and, of course, in Ireland. They might want change – and they seem to be getting it – but they keep coming back for more.
Forty million Corolla saloon buyers can't be wrong can they?
Bumpy roads and crossovers may come and go but like the old K20, there is a sense that these Corollas will go forever.