Stealth Hybrid | The Toyota Camry

toyota camry hybrid 08 01 Stealth Hybrid | The Toyota Camry

There are two distinct theories of gas-electric hybrid design. The first is to make them look different from typical internal combustion engine cars, so that people driving them feel apart from the rest of the pack. The second is to bury the hybrid system in an otherwise conventional car, making for a stealthy application of the same technology.

Strangely enough, given that the last Honda Insight rolled off the assembly line last year, the Toyota Prius is currently the only example of the obvious hybrid. The Toyota Camry, on the other hand, may well be the best current example of a stealth hybrid — and that’s because they don’t come much more conventional than the Camry.

Debuting last year, the hybrid Camry was the third hybrid offering from Toyota after the Prius and the Highlander Hybrid, whose web nickname is, annoyingly, the HiHy.

For this model year, the cars specs are the same as in 2007, with the 2.4L gas engine married to an electric propulsion system that combine to put out 192 horsepower. In addition to using the Hybrid Synergy Drive with its continuously variable transmission, Toyota incorporated racer-style underbody pans that help reduce the coefficient of drag to a listed 0.27. That compares to a 0.26 for the Prius.

Because the EPA has changed the way it estimates fuel economy – taking into account hard-charging leadfoots and the realities of the cold start sans warm-up – MPG for the ’08 hybrid are now pegged at a respectable 33 city and 34 highway, which is not bad for an unarguably spacious vehicle. So, while the numbers may have changed from the high-30s of last year, the true mileage is still the same.

toyota camry hybrid 08 02 Stealth Hybrid | The Toyota Camry

What has changed, surprisingly, are the features included with this year’s hybrid Camry. For 2008, Toyota has ditched the standard alloy wheels, the Homelink transmitter with controls in the rear-view mirror, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and the JBL audio system.

Basically, it’s an overall downgrade for what was considered the top-of-the-line Camry (in much the same way that Lexus LS 600h L hybrid filled the top spot). Maybe Toyota is giving a bit of breathing room for the Lexus GS 450h, the car company’s up-badged midgrade hybrid, which was perhaps feeling a bit squeezed by the hybrid Camry’s touches of class. Who knows?

What is clear is the good news: this year’s price tag is $1,000 less.

Even better from a green standpoint, hybrid Camrys (Camries?) for the U.S. market are produced in Georgetown, Kentucky, meaning that it’s locally produced — well, relatively so. When the Camry hybrid launched just over a year ago, one line at the Georgetown plant was designed to devote 15% of its 250,000-vehicle capacity to the hybrid.

The hybrid’s production is currently being increased to a quarter of the line’s capacity, and there’s talk of pushing that to half the total. Total 2007 hybrid Camry sales stood at almost 45,000 through October, but half the production line would eventually mean a quarter million hybrid Camrys every two year.

True to its roots, that would make the Hybrid Camry just another car on the road.

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