Drive Time: Corolla customer base strong
January 13, 2018
There's no panic, that I can detect, on Toyota grounds after one of its favorite players suffered a near-50,000 unit sales loss in 2017.
It's the beloved Corolla compact, which, even after the dip in sales, remains the third-best-selling car in the country. Corolla hasn't been lower than fifth in sales over the past 10 years and has been either second or third for the past four years.
It's an old nameplate that over the past 50 years has earned one of the most loyal of customer bases anywhere. Devotees of the little car tell me, "We love our Co-ro-lla," it so easily and smoothly rolls off the tongue. Try that with "Civ-ic," the Corolla's chief rival from Honda.
A 2018 Corolla sits in my driveway this week. It's the well-equipped, yet modestly priced XSE sedan. After driving it 150 miles, I offer this suggestion to Toyota: Slap a turbo onto the small block under the hood. Honda did that two years ago with its Civic, along with restyling and tweaking its suspension; its sales shot upward and I get a kick out of driving it.
The front-wheel-drive Corolla, with a 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission, is somewhat of an under-performer. A bit of improvement comes from the push of a button switching it from eco to sport mode, which boosts throttle response and emphasizes simulated shift points. There's nothing wrong with the Corolla from a fuel-efficiency standpoint; it's averaging 32.3 miles per gallon.
Toyota says, "Thanks, but no thanks," to my advice. They must be on track — just look at the satisfied customer base. Structurally sized about the same as a Chevy Cruze, the Corolla offers well-bolstered leather seats, provides a good ride and decent maneuvering, shows off an Entune premium audio setup and is equipped with automatic high-beam headlights.
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Here are sales results in 2017 for the compact category of cars:
Honda Civic, 377,280; Toyota Corolla, 329,196; Nissan Sentra, 218,431; Hyundai Elantra, 198,210; Chevrolet Cruze, 184,751; Ford Focus, 158,385; Volkswagen Jetta, 118,807; Kia Forte, 117,596; Kia Soul, 115,712; Toyota Prius, 108,662; Subaru Impreza, 86,043; Mazda3, 75,018; Volkswagen Golf, 68,978; Mitsubishi Lancer, 12,725.
The new Corolla, with adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, carries a sticker price of $25,337. It is assembled in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.
Reliability of the product has played a major role in building the long-standing support of Corolla customers. It hasn't needed jackrabbit starts or eye-opening 0-to-60 sprint times to impress the crowd.
The '18 model is of sporty front end, with pointy nose and wide-open grille. Its Entune system is with integrated navigation, Bluetooth, backup camera and the steering wheel controls include voice recognition connect. Its trunk space is 13 cubic feet.
Sales of the mid-size Hyundai Sonata declined almost 68,000 units in 2017; now that's worrisome, though a redesign this year will regain some numbers. The Chevy Malibu, also a midsizer, took a drop of more than 40,000; that's cause for concern.
Yet, I found no one wringing hands at Toyota over the Corolla drop. I even texted Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, to get his take. I suspected he would be too busy to respond and he was. I visited with him at Scott Ehrlich's grand opening of his remodeled Toyota store in Greeley this past year. Ehrlich also owns Toyota dealerships in Fort Morgan and Laramie, Wyo.
Co-ro-lla is a big part of his sales strategy, he'll tell you.
— Bud Wells, a native of Wray, is a former Page 1 editor of the Denver Post and has reviewed automobiles for the past 40 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.