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First drive: Aurion takes aim at Commodore

Sharp: A $1500-lower starting price is just one of Aurion's inducements.

Lookout Holden and Ford: Toyota is back with a large Aussie sedan, the 200kW Aurion

18 Oct 2006

FORGET all about the unloved Avalon. Toyota Australia has mounted its most strident attack on Holden’s Commodore and Ford’s Falcon with the launch this week of its value-laden Aurion large sedan.

On sale from October 30 with an opening price of $34,990 – $1500 less than the Commodore Omega and $1000 below the Falcon XT (both with auto and air) – the 200kW Aurion has more power than either of the other two big Aussie sixes.

It also offers better fuel consumption according to the relevant Australian standard and a head-turning list of standard features across the range.

These include a six-speed automatic transmission (with sequential-manual shift control), six airbags – including full-length side curtain airbags and dual-stage frontal airbags – air-conditioning, electronic stability and traction control, and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

Also standard on all models is an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat (including lumbar), cruise control, power-operated windows and mirrors, remote central locking, backlit instruments and a security alarm, while premium entrants have uncommon features for Australian-built cars such as adaptive headlights and keyless entry and start. Telematics makes a return, too.

The model variant naming for the Aurion – itself a name derived from the ancient Greek for "tomorrow" or "first light" – is an interesting mix of nomenclature, with the base model (AT-X) and the sports lines (two Sportivos in the SX6 and ZR6) having obvious links with certain Ford and Holden models.

The higher-series entrants are almost too bizarre for words. Prodigy and Presara? Toyota’s desire to distinguish the Aurion from the Camry – the sedan that has a great deal in common with its new stablemate and rolls down the same production line in Victoria – is great among the marketeers.

Eyebrows, if not hackles, will be raised over certain claims Toyota is making with its new Aurion. Hard facts such as power output will not be disputed, but Australia’s biggest-selling brand has commissioned "independent" research to argue that the Aurion has the most "useable cabin length" in the large-six class.

It also claims Aurion is lighter than other Australian-built sixes, again citing "independent" testing showing the AT-X tipping the scales at 1590kg compared to its direct rivals, which weigh between 1625kg and 1694kg.

Toyota has been careful to avoid making comparisons with the Camry, from which it draws its vehicle architecture, chassis components and some design elements, to name a few main areas. The two cars share roof and door panels and have similar interior and exterior dimensions, including an almost identical boot capacity.

8 center imageFrom top: Sportivo SR6, AT-X and Presara.

Running on normal unleaded petrol, the 3.5-litre quad-cam V6 produces its 200kW at 6200rpm and has a torque peak of 336Nm at 4700rpm. Power rises to 204kW on premium unleaded, and the ADR 81/01 fuel consumption rating sits at 9.9L/100km when using top-shelf fuel. Acceleration to 100km/h is a claimed 7.4 seconds.

Said to make Aurion the most powerful vehicle Toyota has ever sold Down Under, the 2GR-FE engine is also claimed to be the sole Australian-built big six to meet the Euro IV emissions standard, and hands the Aurion a four-star rating on the Federal Government’s Green Vehicle Guide – something other Aussie car-makers cannot boast.

This is the car Toyota believes will reinvigorate the large-car segment in Australia, and which will be the fair-dinkum rival to the Falcon and Commodore which the Avalon was not.

For GoAuto, it also raises obvious questions about cannibalisation of Camry sales rather than making true inroads into the market dominance of Commodore and Falcon, sales of which have diminished to worrying levels this year, despite the arrival of Holden’s all-new VE sedan.

Stung by Avalon’s failure to meet its ambitious sales targets and Aurion’s positioning in the highly competitive large-car market, which contracted 20 per cent last year and lost its rating (to small cars) as Australia’s biggest vehicle segment, Toyota stops short of revealing specific volume forecasts for Aurion.

"We always have the crystal ball out, we do have forecasting and we have our numbers, but by declaring them today we’d be revealing them to all our competitors," said senior executive director sales and marketing David Buttner at Aurion’s national media launch on Monday.

"We do not expect to dominate the marketplace. We expect Holden and Ford to continue with some strength in the market, but we genuinely believe we have a true competitor with which we can gain a much bigger share of that very, very large segment. But, frankly, we’re not putting on the table our specific volumes today." While Toyota is adamant no Aurion sales will be substitutional for Camry, it has revealed enough information for GoAuto to make an educated sales estimate.

The upgraded Altona plant is currently running at a maximum capacity of 140,000 vehicles annually and the company plans to export 80,000 Camry and Aurion vehicles to New Zealand and the Middle East in 2007, with 10 per cent of this volume to be Aurion.

That leaves a total of 60,000 vehicles for annual local consumption and chairman emeritus John Conomos believes that, in the long term, Aurion will eventually prove more popular in Australia than Camry.

Officially, Toyota Oz plans to build "a greater proportion" of four-cylinder vehicles than V6 models at Altona, but Toyota sources have long nominated 24,000 annual sales – 2000 a month or almost double Avalon’s eventual sales rate – as the break-even target for Aurion.

To September this year, Holden has sold about 41,000 Commodores, while Ford has shifted around 33,000 Falcons.

Toyota is also evasive when it comes to revealing the total development cost for Aurion, because it claims the model was part of a global design and engineering program.

Officially, $450 million was "the project cost of a series of local cars", which included increasing production capacity from 110,000 to 140,000 at Altona, which can produce a flexible mix of both left- and right-hand drive Camry and Aurion variants.

"In principle we are not able to divulge development costs only for Aurion," said Toyota Technical Centre Australia boss Max Gillard. "The $450 million was spent exclusively in Australia for manufacturing … the lines get very blurred when you talk about a car that’s developed for both Middle East and some Asian markets." Mr Conomos was more pointed. "Our investment is substantially less than the $1.3 billion I believe Holden has spent on their series of cars, but you shouldn’t look at Aurion in isolation because Camry is the foundation," he said.

Furthermore, Toyota claims Aurion’s aggressive retail pricing, which Mr Conomos says will be augmented by "a very competitive fleet buying price", will not come at the expense of profit margins.

"We set rigorous cost targets and the $1500 (base price shortfall to Commodore) is the result of cost planning targets that were started many years ago," Mr Conomos said. "We will meet all our financial targets." On paper, Aurion looks to be a formidable contender. And the story has only just begun.

2006 Toyota Aurion pricing:
AT-X (a) $34,990
Sportivo SX6 (a) $38,500
Prodigy (a) $39,500
Sportivo ZR6 (a) $42,500
Presara (a) $49,990

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