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Can Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (TM)’s New Corolla Compete With Ford Motor Company (F)’s Focus?

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Here it is, folks: The all-new 2014 Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM) Corolla, arriving at your local dealer this fall.

What do you think?

Before you answer, here’s some food for thought. This car is a big deal for Toyota. The Corolla isn’t just Toyota’s best-seller, it’s one of the two best-selling cars in the world.

Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM)

For many drivers around the world, the Corolla is the car, the only one they’ll consider when they need a new ride. There’s a good reason for that: For years, it was a no-brainer choice, a dependable car that was easy on gas, lasted a long time, and lived up to its promises.

That’s still true. But lately, the Corolla’s competition has gotten a lot tougher, starting with the other best-selling car in the world, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)’s much-lauded Focus.

And that makes this all-new Corolla an even bigger deal than it might have been otherwise.

Did Toyota really “elevate expectations”?
Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM)’s PR folks certainly want the new car to be seen as a game changer. The press release that landed in my mailbox late Thursday night was titled, “Toyota Elevates Expectations with the Surprising 2014 Corolla”.

But is that wishful thinking? Certainly the new Corolla comes with some intriguing changes, starting with its daring (by Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM)’s standards, anyway) styling. It’s certainly… different, at least in appearance.

But whether it “elevates expectations” is another question. The problem really is that expectations for the new Corolla were already elevated, thanks to the Focus and other surprisingly strong compacts like Hyundai’s Elantra that have come to market since the last all-new Corolla hit the U.S. in 2008.

Toyota needed to make a bold step forward to catch up with that competition – while at the same time, not alienating that big following of loyal customers who were happy with the old car. Did Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM) do it? Let’s take a closer look.

Some significant changes beneath the new skin
There are real changes to the Corolla that go way beyond its interesting new styling. Its wheelbase is almost four inches longer than the old car’s, giving more room inside. The change is particularly noticeable in the back seat, where Toyota says it has gained 2.95 inches of length over the old car.

Thank the Chinese market for that one. In China, busy white-collar types often employ drivers, so that owners can ride in the back seat while someone else navigates traffic. A roomy back seat is a critical selling point in China, and the size and influence of China’s market is making bigger back seats a global design trend.

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