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Aussie designers influence tough Toyota HiLux trio

Tonka tough: Trainspotters will notice the similarities between the HiLux Tonka concept from last year and the forthcoming HiLux Rugged X.

Melbourne-based Toyota design team create Australia-only HiLux Rugged, Rugged X

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Toyota logo2 Apr 2018

By JUSTIN HILLIARD

TOYOTA Motor Corporation Australia’s (TMCA) product planning and development division has its fingerprints all over the toughened-up HiLux Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X variants that go on sale later this month, with local designers and engineers preparing the trio for battle against the HSV Colorado SportsCat and other beefed-up dual-cab pick-ups.

Speaking to GoAuto, TMCA product planning and development general manager Rod Ferguson confirmed the trio, revealed in January, have an Australian twist thanks to the division’s efforts.

“The HiLux Rugged and the HiLux Rugged X, you will only see those in Australia,” he said.

“We believe we’ve tailored those towards the requirements of Australia and expect them to be very popular, so we will definitely market that (Australian) side.

“The Rogue likewise, we’ve added what we believe is an Australian flavour to that car on top of the already strong core line-up to make it more attractive – particularly for that buyer that’s sitting above SR5.

“(The trio) demonstrate our ability to develop a wide range of components and integrate them into the vehicle for the Australian market.”

TMCA product public relations manager Orlando Rodriguez added that at least one member of the trio will become a factor globally.

“These vehicles, even though they’re tailored to Australian-market tastes, the Rogue is going to be available regionally (in Thailand), and there might be scope in the future for the Rugged X to become available internationally.”

Toyota Motor Corporation is unable to sell the Rugged X in certain markets where its steel bumpers are deemed illegal, while other regulatory issues prevent its sale elsewhere, but kits of certain parts have been requested by several overseas operations.

Motivation to create the trio was taken from HiLux customers who spend more than $2000 on accessories, on average, signalling that there was a market above the current SR5 flagship grade.

Work on the range-topping trio began in early 2015, prior to the eighth-generation HiLux’s release, and started as a styling exercise before refocusing on improving capability as well – but most of these changes are yet to be detailed.

By August 2015, TMCA began conducting customer clinics locally and regionally to test the concepts that had been developed. These were successful, leading to approval from local senior management in January 2016.

“We’ve gone to market, heard what our customers want, how they want their vehicles to meet their additional lifestyle needs,” Mr Rodriguez explained.

“The workhorse versus the weekend car – that’s what these cars are really about, broadening that appeal for anyone that really wants to use their car for that sort of dual purpose.”

Following the customer clinics, Mr Ferguson travelled to TMC headquarters in Japan with a series of sketches and presented a case study to TMC executive chief engineer Hiroki Nakajima, ultimately receiving his support to develop it further.

As a result, the production Rugged X closely mirrors its concept form, save for its alloy wheel design and some other minor components, and stays true to TMC’s established design language while incorporating elements from the HiLux Tonka concept shown in March last year.

“In the case of the Rugged X, we’ve provided a ready-to-go integrated package for that person that wants to go out in hardcore off-road driving,” Mr Ferguson said.

“(It works) with airbags systems, all the vehicle systems. We’ve taken mass into account, emissions, everything you’d expect from the factory – it’s there, ready to go.”

Specifically, the Rugged X focuses on capability, with its steel front bumper incorporating LED lighting, a bash plate and red recovery hooks, while the front grille is split into two mesh sections.

Black-finish bonnet and tailgate decals, fender flares, side body protection, rock rails and a steel rear bumper round out the menacing look, while approach and departure angles have been further optimised.

Additionally, the Rugged X’s matte-black sports bar penetrates the tray instead of being mounted on its side walls – as seen in the SR5 – with this new feature shared by the trio.

Many of these flourishes are found on the Rugged, which is aimed at customers who also want a full bull bar. Nevertheless, it is based on the lower-specification SR grade and misses out on the aforementioned recovery hooks.

According to Mr Ferguson, the decision to offer the Rugged alongside the Rugged X, despite their similarities, was made due to feedback received from the customer clinics.

“We identified that even people that live in urban areas are very happy to drive (the Rugged X) and want the creature comforts on the inside,” he said.

“They may never take it off road, but some of the customers who are using it in different applications, they like the idea of the (Rugged X) but need a different front end.”

Mr Ferguson revealed that similar Fortuner variants are not on the cards in the short term, but the business cases for other fettled models – including the HiLux-based large SUV – could develop over time.

Meanwhile, the Rogue is pitched as a lifestyle vehicle that can be enjoyed by many and was always intended for global markets such as Australia and Thailand – where it is known as the Rocco.

Its front end is noticeably different from the SR5 upon which it is based, with changes including a trapezoidal grille and an aggressive front bumper, as well as black and metallic grey highlights.

Upgrades to the rear end are less dramatic, with the large reflective Toyota branding replaced by a small black badge on the tailgate, while the bumper’s chrome accents have made way for metallic grey touches and a hard tonneau cover has been added.

The trio were subject to crash, durability, emissions and Australian Design Rules (ADR) tests, as well as vehicle evaluations and quality control checks – most of which were completed locally.

While TMCA is not sharing sales targets for the trio yet, they are expected to boost the HiLux’s bottom line as it charges towards a third successive year as Australia’s best-selling model.

Local pricing and specification for the HiLux Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X are still being determined by TMCA but will be released in the coming weeks.

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