A small sedan that we often characterize as competently anonymous, the Toyota Corolla looms large in automotive history for persistence and for its monumental sales.
Persistence: As of November, Corollas will have been in production for a half-century, and Toyota is celebrating this semi-centennial at the New York International Auto Show. A key element of the celebration is the unveiling of a 50th Anniversary Special Edition going on sale this fall as a 2017 model.
This special edition consists of mostly cosmetic additions to the familiar Corolla SE, although it shares in the refresh coming to the whole range for 2017. There are three different paint offerings, one of whichâBlackÂ Cherryâis exclusive to the commemorative model. A set of machine-finished 17-inch aluminum wheels with dark-gray inserts is exclusive to the special edition, and as youâd expect, there are 50th Anniversary badges.
Inside, the dÃ©cor is black with black-cherry accents for the dashboard and door panels, plus black-cherry stitching adorning the seats, steering wheel, center armrest, and shifter boot. The 50th Anniversary logo is repeated on the floor mats. Tech features include Toyotaâs Entune Audio Plus system with integrated navigation, a 7.0-inch high-resolution color touchscreen atop the center stack, and a 4.2-inch color info display tucked in between the major gauges (tach and speedo).
43.1 million and counting
The word phenomenal only begins to surround the Corollaâs 50-year sales record. Introduced in 1966, the original was a modest rear-drive subcompact. Although Toyota dedicated a new factory in Takaoka, Japan, to the new car, no one anticipated the huge success the Corolla would become. But it was an instant hit, helpingÂ account for aÂ quick boost of more than 200 percentÂ inÂ Toyotaâs annual production. The Corolla made its U.S. debut for the 1969 model year, and by 1970 worldwide sales had soared over the million mark.
Global sales continued to soar, and in 1997 the Corolla passed the Volkswagen Beetle on the all-time bestseller list, drawing steadily aheadâeven though the original air-cooled Beetle was still in production. When the original Beetle reached the end of the line in 2003, its final tally was about 21.5 million. Corolla sales stood at 43.1 million through 2015 and 11 generations, and theyâre still going strong, at an annual rate of about 1.5 million worldwide, which includes some 150 different countries, according to Toyota. The company estimates U.S. Corolla sales at roughly 10.5-million units since 1968.
While Corollas still emerge from the original Takaoka plant, there are now 15 other factories scattered around the globe, including the recently added (2011) facility at Blue Springs, Mississippi.
Critics sometimes argue that the Corolla nameplate has been affixed to numerous vehicle typesârear-drive, front-drive, sedan, hatchback, crossover wannabes, and even the one Corolla we truly loved, the AE86âwhereas the Beetle was fundamentally the same throughout its life span: air-cooled engine at the rear, driving the rear wheels, two doors, and that unique shape. Nevertheless, itâs hard to argue with a success story of the Corolla’s magnitude and duration.
Whether the anniversary edition makes enough of a statement against such a monumental backdrop will be up to customers. Toyota plans to limit U.S. availability to 8000 cars, which doesn’t sound very “limited” until you consider that the 2015 U.S. sales total of more than 363,000 Corollas means nearly 1000 are sold every day.