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Official: Toyota creates Rukus

Chunky funky: Toyota's new Ruckus will be based on a city wagon called Rumion in Japan and Scion xB in the US.

Toyota hopes two additional models will boost its sales fortunes in 2010

Toyota logo9 Mar 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

STUNG by its biggest and most embarrassing global recall, a 16 per cent sales slide last year and a 52 per cent reduction in sales of its new Prius last month, Toyota Australia will launch not one but two all-new models this year.

Instead of the fuel-sipping iQ micro-car, however, the first additional Toyota Australia model since the mid-size Kluger SUV in 2003 will be a facelifted version of the small city wagon sold in Japan as the Rumion and in North America as the Scion xB.

The Rukus, as it will be known in Australia when it goes on sale here from June, will be joined in late 2010 by a second new Toyota wagon, in the form of the FJ Cruiser, a retro-styled SUV based on Toyota’s mid-size Prado four-wheel drive.

Toyota Australia’s corporate manager of product planning, Peter Evans, described both models, which GoAuto understands were delayed for Australia due to the global financial crisis, as “low-volume brand-builders”.

Meantime, Mr Evans also confirmed the pint-sized iQ, an all-electric version of which will be launched overseas later this year, was no longer on the short-term agenda for Australia.

“The iQ is still being studied but certainly hasn’t been confirmed for Australia,” he said. “We’d be lucky to sell 50 a month in Sydney, Melbourne and maybe Brisbane, which are the only high traffic density areas it would make sense in.

“And it would sell for more than a Yaris if it was to be introduced here.”

8 center image From top: Toyota Rukus teaser, Scion xB, Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Mr Evans said the redesigned version of the 3.4-metre-long Aygo, a joint-venture Toyota model sold in Europe and based on the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107, was a more likely candidate than the three-metre iQ to eventually join Toyota Australia’s model portfolio below the 3.7-metre Yaris light-car.

While the C1 is not on Citroen’s agenda for Australia, Peugeot Automobiles Australia hopes to introduce its version of the next-generation Aygo, to be named the 108, locally in 2011.

As we’ve reported, the same year could see Toyota introduce its first sub-light-sized model to compete directly with Suzuki’s pioneering Alto and the Chevrolet Spark, which Holden has confirmed will be part of its all-new Barina range later this year.

“Do we need to go straight to three metres, or (to) something in between like an Aygo or an Aygo replacement, which has genuine four-seat capacity and far more potential in Australia?,” said Mr Evans.

While the Aygo and iQ continue to hover on Toyota’s city-car horizon, a teaser shot of Australia’s Rukus, a new nameplate that has also been officially confirmed, was issued by Toyota Australia today.

The all-new small car, which entered production in Japan in late 2007 before going on sale there in early 2008, received official Australian Design Rule certification last week.

Mr Evans described Toyota’s direct response to Nissan’s Cube, which is now in its third generation but is less likely to be sold here than the all-new Juke mini-SUV, as a female-friendly urban runabout that was more suitable to Australians than the Urban Cruiser.

“The Urban Cruiser is a sub-RAV crossover that’s similar in concept to the (Daihatsu) Terios,” he said. “(Rukus) isn’t a crossover – it’s a boxy hatchback-cum-wagon that’s cool and funky but surprisingly practical.” Toyota Australia’s chief model planner said the Rukus would appeal to a wide section of buyers, including women who in the absence of a Corolla wagon can’t fit baby stroller into a small hatchback.

“(Rukus) has many applications, but it’s not really big enough to substitute for a wagon,” he said.

Officially confirming the Rukus for Australian sale by mid-year, Toyota Australia marketing manager Scott Thompson said the ‘urban utility vehicle’ was expected to bring young, urban trend-setters to the Toyota brand, especially those who have never previously considered a Toyota.

“It will be a case of ‘Rukus’ by name and ruckus by nature,” he said. “This is a car that’s designed to be different, with a boxy shape that has become iconic.

“When it’s launched late in the first half of this year, it will certainly stir up the small-car market – creating a ‘ruckus’, if you will.

“Rukus is designed to be different: it’s not for everyone. It’s a bit like Vegemite: it’s an acquired taste.” The front-wheel-drive Rukus, which appeared in Toyota’s teaser image with a different front bumper to both Japan’s current Rumion and Scion’s second-generation xB currently sold in the US, is available in its domestic market with both 81kW/143Nm 1.5-litre and 100kW/175Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engines.

Both engines are mated exclusively to a continuously variable (‘Super CVT-i’) transmission, although the 1.8-litre version – which shares its engine with the Corolla and is more likely to be offered here – features a seven-speed manual-shift mode and also powers a range-topping all-wheel drive model.

A ‘Smart Package’ for the latter is also available in Japan, comprising keyless entry, a stop/start button and Xenon headlights.

Toyota says the Rukus will be offered as a “blank slate” for owners to individualise with a range of custom (aftermarket) accessories.

“It will be loaded with great standard features, but we expect many owners to express their individuality by making their car stand out from the pack,” said Mr Thompson.

“That might involve wild paint jobs, funky wheels or other ideas, limited only by the imagination of owners – and what’s legal.

“Potential customers have told us they want this style of car. We’ve listened and we’re responding.” The second additional model in the pipeline for Toyota Australia was alluded to by sales and marketing director David Buttner, announced at Toyota’s national dealer conference in February and confirmed for release this year by Toyota spokesman Mike Breen.

GoAuto sources have revealed it will be an upgraded version of the FJ Cruiser, which was released in the US in early 2006 after a positive response to its appearance in concept guise at the 2003 Chicago motor show.

Presenting a bold front-end designed to be reminiscent of Toyota’s original FJ40 LandCruiser of the 1960s, the Prado-based medium SUV was a direct competitor for General Motors’ Hummer H3, which will soon be discontinued following GM’s decision to eliminate the iconic US off-road brand.

The five-door four-wheel drive wagon, produced by Hino in Japan, is powered by a 4.0-litre petrol V6, rides on a 2690mm wheelbase and measures 4671mm long, 1895mm wide and 1811mm high. Kerb weights range between 1840kg for the rear-drive version and 1948kg for the 4WD automatic.

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