But the brand wanted to reach more people, and hopefully attract a different consumer base. They discontinued one of their best small cars—the Tercel—and replaced it with the Echo. That ended up being a misstep.
The Toyota Echo did not have the impact that the brand wanted
Autotrader’s history of the Echo, Toyota wanted to engage younger buyers. They wanted to redesign some of their old standards, like the aforementioned Tercel, and refresh their line-up.
Toyota launched Project Genesis, which rolled out three new models: the Echo, the Celica, and the MR2. While the Celica did exactly what was intended and performed well, the Echo fell flat.
The Echo was released in the 2000 model year, but it was discontinued by 2004. Sales in the first year were actually good. Toyota sold 50,000 units in the Echo's first year.
It's assumed that Toyota got a little momentum in sales because people perceived the Echo as the new Tercel. People loved the Tercel because it was a solid and dependable small car.
The momentum dropped off quickly, though. By 2002, sales were half of what they were in the first year. Less than 4,000 Echos were sold in 2004.
That's more than a 92% drop in sales over four years. So what happened?
The Toyota Echo was a failure
There's no way to spin it: the Echo was a failure for Toyota. For a brand with such a reputation for dependability and great all-around vehicles, that's a rare misstep. It wasn't that Toyota couldn't make a great small car. The Tercel was a good seller, and so was the Celica.
The Echo, though, just didn't live up to Toyota's usual exacting standards.
The styling was the first big blunder. The front-down, rear-up styling that Toyota adopted made the car look less like it was in motion and more like it was in the middle of braking hard. The Echo was also narrow and tall, which made it feel ungainly while cornering.
While the interior actually had some nice styling details, it was cheaply made. To boot, the Echo came with an unreasonably high price tag considering its features (or lack thereof).
The base price was $11,000. Without paying extra, you couldn't even get power-assisted steering. If you wanted power locks or air conditioning, you had to pay extra. Power windows weren’t even a possibility, no matter how much extra you shelled out.
By the time a customer had paid for the extras that would make the Echo worth it, they could have just bought a similar vehicle from a competitor that had all the extras included.
Toyota learned from its mistakes
Toyota eventually replaced the Echo with the Yaris, which fixed many of its predecessor’s problems. Autotrader called the release of the Yaris "sweet salvation."
The Yaris kept the price range of the Echo, but added those features that people wanted standard, without all the added cost. Toyota also fixed the bizarre styling, making the Yaris far more subtle about the front-down styling. A staple in the company’s class of small vehicles, the
Yariswas first produced in model year 2007, and ran through until 2020.
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