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Toyota seeks to win back Korean customers with hybrid Crown

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : June 5, 2023 - 15:32

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Toyota Korea CEO Konyama Manabu poses with the newly launched Toyota Crown hybrid sedan at a launch event held in Seoul on Monday. (Toyota Korea) Toyota Korea CEO Konyama Manabu poses with the newly launched Toyota Crown hybrid sedan at a launch event held in Seoul on Monday. (Toyota Korea)

With improved bilateral relations between Korea and Japan, Toyota is seeking a turnaround here with the launch of the Crown Hybrid crossover utility vehicle, an upgraded version of its long-loved flagship sedan.

“The Korean market is both worthy of investment and challenging because many customers are car enthusiasts who have high standards,” said Toyota Korea CEO Konyama Manabu, during a press conference on Monday in Gangnam-gu, Seoul. “Compared to 2022, the situation has improved for Toyota and Lexus, which sold a combined 8,000 units in the January-May period this year.”

Launched in 1955, the Crown was Toyota’s first mass-produced car model with the longest history of 69 years. It was introduced in Korea by Shinjin Motors in 1971, but was discontinued a year later.

Pinning hopes of a stronger sales rebound here after years of the “No Japan” campaign -- a boycott of Japanese products that ran from 2019 and lasted for some three years -- the carmaker aims to win back Korean customers with improved services and marketing activities, according to Kang Dae-hwan, managing director at Toyota Korea.

“Starting from April, we have opened an artificial intelligence-based call center to assist customers in need 24/7,” said Kang. “For this year’s Autumn and Winter period, the company plans to hold racing car events and VIP events for Korean customers.”

The new Crown Hybrid, the 16th generation model, comes in four types: sedan, sports car, estate car and CUV -- a mix of sedan and sport utility vehicle. The Korean unit said it will introduce the CUVs first and consider launching the other three types.

The carmaker’s decision to roll out the CUV version of the Crown Hybrid as a strategic car model in Korea and other 40 markets comes with its renewed push to blend the heritage of the Crown sedan with the recent enthusiasm for SUVs around the world.

The carmaker had actually attempted to launch a new Crown car three years ago but scrapped the plans.

“The Crown has been a flagship model for our domestic market (Japan). When we decided to suspend the car launch in 2020, we came up with an idea -- creating a new car that can be well-received in more countries,” Yuji Homma, a project general manager at Toyota, said via video conference.

“We are offering a wide range of tuning options for the car’s suspension and control systems to meet different road conditions and driving environments.”

The Crown Hybrid CUV models are available in two power train versions -- a 2.4-liter dual boost turbo engine or 2.5-liter turbo engine. The 2.4-liter model is expected to garner traction from customers interested in Toyota’s new electrification technology, while the 2.5-liter car targets those looking for affordable hybrid cars.

The dual boost hybrid model, in particular, adopts the Japanese automaker’s bipolar nickel-metal hydrogen battery and high-performance E-Four Advanced motor system for the first time.

The company stressed that its upgraded battery, which is more compact than existing lithium-ion batteries and reduces the level of internal resistance, allows more powerful and efficient power output.

Unlike other companies focusing on launches of fully electric vehicles rather than hybrid cars, the Toyota CEO said that the company will take a “multi-pathway approach” to provide car engines ranging from gasoline and hybrid to battery-powered EVs that fit well with each of the country’s energy policy and infrastructure for clean cars.

The price for Crown 2.4-liter Dual Boost Hybrid and Crown 2.5-liter Hybrid are set at 64.8 million won ($49,570) and 56.7 million won, respectively.