Last week, Toyota celebrated 50 million sales of its bread-and-butter model, the Corolla. The literal crown jewel in the company’s lineup (the name is Latin for “small crown”, after all), it’s been the world’s best-selling nameplate for 24 years straight, cementing its status as one of the automotive greats.
Reaching that milestone has been a global effort, of course – that includes Malaysia, where the Corolla was the first Toyota to be assembled locally. The Japanese carmaker was among those that heeded the government’s invitation in 1965 to build CKD cars here, teaming up with Champion Motors that had just set up an assembly plant in Shah Alam. Later renamed Assembly Services Sdn Bhd (ASSB), the factory was bought over by Toyota and UMW Holdings in 1982 and is still being used to this day.
The first-generation E10 Corolla was one of the first models to be built at Champion Motors in 1968; the plant had the highest output in the country in its early years, having also initially assembled vehicles for a number of other carmakers. By the 1970s, Toyota was the #1 automotive brand in Malaysia, with the unassuming family car being its top-selling model. While the sedan was the most popular variant, wagon and sporty Liftback body styles were also sold here, the latter even participating in local rallies.
As an entry-level model, the Corolla enjoyed affordable pricing before the advent of national carmakers; it was also reliable and economical, making it a popular form of transportation. But as Malaysian customers’ expectations rose, the car became more and more sophisticated, leading to the introduction of the ninth-generation E120 in 2001 – the first to bear the Altis suffix, denoting a step up in quality and size.
Despite now sitting above the Vios in Toyota’s local lineup, its successor, the tenth-gen E140, became the best-selling generation to date, with around 40,000 units sold between 2006 and 2013. Between 2010 and 2020, the Corolla made up approximately six per cent of Toyota sales in Malaysia. All in all, some 300,000 units were sold in this country, making up a decent chunk of the 50 million of global sales.
Fifty-three years on, the Corolla continues to inspire loyalty among buyers, with 63% of customers trading up to a newer model upon launch and almost a third having bought an additional Corolla for the household. The last rear-wheel-drive generation, the fourth-gen E70, has also garnered a cult following as a popular drift car due to its affordability and durability.
The Corolla has also introduced new technologies with each successive generation. For example, the E70 was the first model to undergo the Shah Alam plants then-new automated electro-deposition (ED) process for applying primer paint in the late-1970s, significantly improving corrosion resistance. The E120 was then the first CKD model in its class to offer stability control. The latest 12th-gen E210 is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) and features the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver assistance systems.
The nameplate entered a new era this year with the arrival of the Corolla Cross, responding to the burgeoning demand for SUVs. Currently imported from Thailand, the crossover will be locally assembled later this year, likely adding a hybrid variant to the mix. The regular Corolla, which has been imported from Thailand since 2008, could also follow suit.
“The success of the model was due to it being a new standard of automotive excellence in this class of car, offering customers a dynamic and advanced sedan with luxurious styling. There were also higher levels of safety and the model was friendlier to the environment.
“Each generation, right from the very first, has been a contributor in the brand transformation. From the first generation which began the motorisation for the masses to the latest generation which was the basis of the transformation, the Corolla has always been in sync with the changes in society and the economy of Malaysia,” said UMW Toyota Motor president Ravindran Kurusamy.
Chairman Akio Takeyama added, “The Corolla is a global, high quality vehicle that transcends class, as it has always been. In more than 50 years and over 12 generations, it has brought joy of ownership to tens of thousands of customers throughout Malaysia.”
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