On this day in 2005, Toyota Motor Company announces its plans to produce a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its bestselling Camry sedan. Built at the company’s Georgetown, Kentucky, plant, the Camry became Toyota’s first hybrid model to be manufactured in the United States.
Toyota introduced the Camry–the name is a phonetic transcription of the Japanese word for “crown”–in the Japanese market in 1980; it began selling in the United States the following year. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the success of the Camry and its Japanese competitor, the Honda Accord, had allowed Toyota and Honda to seize control of the midsize sedan market in the United States. By then, Toyota had adapted the Camry more to American tastes, increasing its size and replacing its original boxy design with a smoother, more rounded style. By 2003, as Micheline Maynard recorded in her book “The End of Detroit,” apart from the early-’90s success of the Ford Taurus, the Camry and Accord had long maintained their position atop the list of the nation’s best-selling cars overall, each selling around 400,000 units per year.
In 1997, Toyota’s Prius–the world’s first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle–went on sale in Japan. It was released worldwide in 2001. By using an electric motor to supplement power from the gasoline, hybrid technology resulted in greatly improved fuel efficiency and higher gas mileage. Honda launched its own hybrid lineup with the Insight in 1999 and continued with the hybrid Civic in 2002. By then, skyrocketing gas prices had combined with a backlash against gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles (SUVs) to make hybrids suddenly chic. Eco-conscious Hollywood celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz proudly drove their Priuses around Los Angeles, and by 2003 Honda and Toyota were selling 50,000 hybrids a year in the United States. The plans to develop a hybrid Camry, announced in May 2005, brought the total number of Toyota-made hybrid models to four, including the Prius; the Lexus RX 400h, a midsize sport utility vehicle (SUV) released in April 2005; and a second SUV, the Toyota Highlander, released that June.