The Fifth Generation (AE80)
Front-wheel drive was the in-thing in the fuel-efficient ’80s and the fifth generation Corolla adopted this space-saving drivetrain. An entirely new design was conceived, again by Agetsuma and his team. The new design was sleeker and yet offered more interior space than any earlier Corolla.
The fifth generation also brought a new range of lightweight, advanced engines that were more responsive. One of the most advanced units was the 12-valve E-Series engine which drew much praise in engineering circles.
The number of variants had grown over the years and for the first time, a 5-door Liftback was introduced. Also introduced were high-performance coupes which had a new 16-valve twincam EFI engine that developed an impressive 130 bhp. These retained rear-wheel drive because Toyota engineers felt that the enthusiasts of that time preferred it. The stationwagon variant also had RWD during this period.
The fifth generation added approximately 3.3 million units (with 98,880 built in California) to the Corolla’s cumulative production figure, raising it to 15.5 million units.
The Sixth Generation (AE90)
The man who assumed command of the Corolla development team for the sixth generation was Dr. Akihiko Saito. The continuing success and confirmed position of the Corolla as the world’s best-seller meant that the next generation had to be designed very carefully.
But the question that faced Dr. Saito and his team was: how do you make a best-seller even better?
The answer was to raise quality levels higher than ever before. The availability of new materials, computer-aided design tools and other advancements made it possible to design a new, more sophisticated Corolla which would perform more efficiently and, at the same time, be of significantly higher quality.
This was the philosophy applied to the development of the sixth generation introduced in May 1987. It had a ‘big car look’ with an elegant style. The sporty-looking Liftback which had a unique wrap-around ‘greenhouse’ and its lines echoed the Celica Liftback then.
Technically, this was another milestone Corolla with its newly-developed twincam 16-valve 1600 cc engine. Designed for family cars, this engine offered high output, quicker response and yet excellent fuel economy.
In virtually every market where the Corolla was launched, sales increased substantially. During the five years that the sixth generation was produced, over 4.5 million units were produced. Factories in California and Canada contributed 279,000 units to this figure.
The Seventh Generation (AE101)
To the Japanese, ‘7’ is a lucky number and still basking in the accolades the company had received for its superb Lexus LS400, every Chief Engineer wanted to produce his model with the same superior levels of refinement. For Dr. Saito, who led the team for the initial development phase of the seventh generation Corolla, the aim was to “Touch the Heart” with a car of unprecedented quality. No expense was spared and every effort was put into producing what the market would later regard as a ‘mini-Lexus’.
Initially, the model took off slowly as the major upgrade in quality and appointments had bumped the price up in the domestic market by quite a fair bit. However, when customers drove the car and actually experienced the refinement, the extra cost was justified and once again, Corolla sales soared. Unfortunately, the yen started rising in strength and there was also a recession starting in the home market and sales were dampened. Nevertheless, the seventh generation sold very well outside Japan.
The Eighth Generation (AE110)
Japan was in recession when development work on the eighth generation began in the early 1990s. After enjoying much freedom working on the facelift of the previous ‘mini-Lexus’ generation, Takayasu Honda, who was the Chief Engineer, faced a big challenge in reducing costs. Like all Japanese automakers, Toyota had to take urgent measures to cope with the recession and product development teams were under pressure to find ways of producing new models at a lower cost – without compromising perceived quality. In earlier years, they could add extra length to a cable to avoid it touching something and causing noise; now they could not do that and even had to find a way to make the cable cheaper!
The same platform was used as the previous generation but a lot of cost-down measures were taken. It was still a competent car and high quality was maintained in areas that the customer saw. The eighth generation also got large doses of safety with airbags added and ABS made available in some markets.
Some take a negative view of the eighth generation but as the Chief Engineer of the latest Corolla, Takeshi Yoshida (who was deputy for the eighth generation) explains, its development concept was correct for the period it was sold in because of the recession.
During this generation, Toyota decided to try out a regional variation by letting its European design centre make some cosmetic changes that would suit European customers. From the outset, the Corolla for Europe was intended to be more than just an exercise in cosmetic changes from the Asian one. The whole thrust of the development program was to produce a car which could truly meet the needs and tastes of European buyers. Market research told Toyota that innovative design and emotional appeal are strong prerequisites for success. The Corolla had been lacking flair even if consumers recognised its high build quality and proven reliability.
One of the exciting features of the European variant was a 6-speed gearbox which was available in the sportiest model. It coincided with the development of the new Toyota rallycar which was based on the hatchback. However, sporty models like the coupe and liftback no longer existed in this generation as Toyota decided their demand had fallen too much. New with this generation was a mini-MPV variant called the Corolla Spacio which, unusually, had its body panels stamped at Kanto Autoworks instead of Toyota’s own factories.
The Corolla in Malaysia
The history of the Toyota Corolla in Malaysia goes back to 1967 when the first generation was imported in small numbers. However, in the following year, responding to the Malaysian government’s call for the creation of a local automotive industry, Toyota began sending completely knocked-down (CKD) kits of the Corolla to Malaysia where local workers could assemble the cars.
The plant which was chosen to undertake assembly was Assembly Services Sdn Bhd (ASSB) in Shah Alam, which was one of the earliest assembly plants to be established in Malaysia. A wholly-owned subsidiary of UMW Toyota Motor today, ASSB was the recipient of much automotive technology transfer during the 1960s and 1970s as production engineers from Toyota provided advice on the assembly of vehicles and also worked closely in designing the plant layout.
Like most Japanese cars introduced in the 1960s, the Corolla met with scepticism from Malaysian buyers who had been used to European products. But reliability and durability won many over and as positive comments from owners spread, the popularity of the model increased quickly. By the mid-1970s, the Corolla was jostling for best-selling car in Malaysia with the Datsun 120Y. It was only when the National Car arrived in 1985 that the two cars were displaced although they continued to battle each other for second and third positions.
As each new generation arrived, the advertising agencies would come up with memorable launch concepts. For example, the advertising for the KE70 which appeared in late 1979 exploited past successes with the tagline ‘Legend Reborn’. In the late 1980s, UMW Toyota Motor lifted the image of the model even higher as it launched the AE90 as ‘The Unexpected Corolla’.
The Corolla was also one of the competitive rallycars in the Malaysian scene during the 1980s. Sejati Motor (as UMW Toyota Motor was known then) saw much potential in the Corolla GT (also known as Levin in Japan) which had the potent 4A-GE twincam 16-valve engine that produced 130 bhp in standard form and decided to establish a rally team. In spite of its smaller 1600 cc engine, the Corolla GT won many rallies and championships, beating larger and more powerful rivals like the Nissan 240RS.
“It was a highly manoeuverable car and ‘flew’ perfectly,” recalls Y.S. Khong, who was the team’s manager and also won 20 rallies with the Corolla GT, besides becoming National Rally Champion with it. “The engine was virtually unburstable and when we raced it in the Group A class, it was the reliability of the engine and durability of the car that gave us the superiority.” Needless to say, all those wins rubbed off on the Corollas the public could buy.
Through the years, the Corolla’s engine size has grown from the original 1.1 litres. The 1.3-litre engine was the mainstay during much of the 1980s but by the 1990s, the 1.6-litre engine was more popular, partly because of the pricing. With the latest ninth generation, a larger displacement of 1.8 litres if offered for the first time here while the 1.3-litre variant is no longer assembled.
Prices have risen too; from around RM6,000 for the first generation, the fourth generation’s price went up to RM12,000. By the end of the 1990s, the Corolla passed the RM100,000 mark as a result of the economic crisis that weakened the ringgit. At RM122,000, the new Corolla Altis 1.8G would be the most expensive locally-assembled Corolla ever offered… but also the best.
|The Ninth Generation Corolla Altis|