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Echo: Toyota Gets It Wrong

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author photo by Aaron Gold April 2017

Back in the late 1990s, Toyota had a reputation of being unable to do wrong -- and then the Echo came along and reminded us that every singer, no matter how good, eventually hits a sour note.

The 2000 Echo was the result of Toyota's Project Genesis, an attempt to bring younger buyers into the fold. (Sound familiar? Project Genesis, though considered a failure, later led to Scion.) Genesis consisted of three cars: The Celica, the MR2 Spyder, and the Echo, which replaced the staid-but-reliable Tercel.

The idea was to bring young buyers into the fold with edgy styling. Clearly, the Celica succeeded; the MR2 and the Echo, not so much. We can understand where the MR2 went wrong, as the previous version was simply better. But what of the Echo?

Let's pick apart the failures. First, the styling: It was just a bit too far out there. The Yaris had a low front end and a tall rump. You've heard of cars that look like they are moving, even when they are standing still? Well, the Echo looked like it was constantly stopping short. (The first-generation Prius shared many of the styling cues with -- arguably -- better proportions, though it wasn't exactly a looker, either.)

Inside, the Echo had its speedometer mounted in the center, which invariably cheapened the costs of building the Echo for right- and left-hand-drive markets. Edgy, sure -- a bit too edgy for the buying public. And as it happens, the little instrument binnacle didn't include a tachometer, something that could have helped buyers employ the rev-happy 108 horsepower 1.5-liter engine to its fullest potential. In fairness, the two-tone interior with its rounded shapes was quite nice, and it turned out to be rather prophetic.

The Echo was unusually tall and unusually narrow, which heightened the sensation of body roll. It was a tidy enough handler, if not an out-and-out thriller, but those who were prone to motion sickness did well to keep their cornering speeds down.

Another problem: The Echo was cheap. Really cheap. Base models didn't even get power-assisted steering, let alone power windows, power locks, power mirrors or air conditioning. All could be added, at significant cost...except power windows. They weren't on the option list.

And compounding that problem was the fact that the Echo wasn't cheap: The base price was close to $11,000. Air conditioning couldn't be had without a bunch of other extra-cost options, including power steering, a split/fold rear seat, a rear defroster and a CD player, so most Echos sold for over $13,000 -- not much less than larger and more substantial cars like the Honda Civic and Dodge Neon.

Proof of the Echo's folly can be seen in the sales numbers. It got off to a strong start, selling around 50,000 units in the year 2000; no doubt, it got some momentum from its well-respected predecessor, the Tercel. But by 2002, sales were down by half; in 2004 (just before sweet salvation arrived in the form of the new Yaris), Toyota sold less than 4,000.

The Yaris was undoubtedly a better car than the Echo, but then again, how could it not be? Only one good thing can be said about the Echo: It reminds us mere mortals that even the mighty can fall.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Echo: Toyota Gets It Wrong - Autotrader