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Taxi operators hail Toyota’s Kluger

Cab charge: Just 42 Klugers have been sold to taxi operators this year, but the number is growing as sales of the Camry Hybrid have contracted.

Consumer shift to SUVs becoming evident in take-up of Toyota Kluger taxis

Toyota logo8 Aug 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON

TOYOTA’S hot-selling Kluger seven-seat large SUV has become a popular choice among Australia’s taxi operators, who are looking for more space and versatility than the more traditional models currently on offer.

A number of high-riding Klugers have been spotted on Melbourne streets with taxi packs, mirroring a shift in consumer preference that is increasingly favouring SUVs over sedans, wagons and hatchbacks.

To the end of July, passenger-car sales in Australia are at 285,182 units, while SUVs are closing in at 256,210, representing a 10.3 per cent increase over the first seven months of 2015.

Toyota has been the car-maker of choice for taxis in recent years, with operators increasingly opting for the petrol-electric Prius and Camry Hybrids – and up until it was discontinued in 2006, the Australian-built Avalon – over the commonplace Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore.

Sales of the locally-produced Camry Hybrid to the taxi industry have dipped in recent years, sliding from 908 in 2014 to 849 last year, while 298 have been sold to the end of July this year.

Toyota Australia corporate affairs manager Beck Angel highlighted the popularity of the Camry Hybrid among taxi operators and said used examples are snapped up quickly.

“Camry Hybrid remains the Toyota vehicle of choice amongst taxi drives, representing more than 60 per cent of new-car sales to the industry since 2014,” she said. “Camry Hybrids in the used-car market are also extremely popular amongst the taxi industry, however, we do not have data available on these sales.”

While the number of Klugers sold to taxi owners and operators is still relatively small, it is expected to grow further in the coming years.

Toyota did not register any sales of the Kluger to the taxi industry in 2014, but in 2015, 22 were snapped up.

Just seven months into 2016, Toyota has sold 42 Klugers to taxi operators, representing a 91 per cent year to date increase.

Ms Angel said that the flexibility offered by the Kluger was a strong selling point and added that many buyers in the taxi industry were coming from other brands.

“This increase in sales suggests that certain taxi drivers are looking to provide their client base with another alternative as the Kluger is large vehicle, has seven seats and offers significantly more room than a traditional taxi,” she said.

“Previously these taxi drivers may have purchased vehicles from other brands but have now discovered Toyota Kluger.”

Silver Top Taxi Service Melbourne fleet manager for wheelchair accessible and silver service taxis Teresa Saldias told GoAuto that owners and operators are typically drawn to vehicles that “present well, are safe and reliable, economical to run and provide a high level of comfort for both the passenger and driver”, and highlighted the positives of the Kluger.

“The Kluger is becoming a popular choice for Silver Top, Silver Service Taxi Operators due to the vehicle’s affordability, elegant design, (both inside and out), and very spacious interior, including ample boot area, that can comfortably accommodate for up to four passengers and many items of luggage which makes this type of vehicle an ideal taxi for airport transfers,” she said.

“The Kluger can easily be converted to run on gas which, (unlike in standard taxis), will not reduce the size of the boot area.

“The standard features on offer, and the quiet engine and excellent suspension also makes it an attractive choice of vehicle for taxi operators.”

Ms Saldias predicted that the uplift in popularity of SUVs will continue to be reflected by the taxi industry.

“They are more popular than a Camry or Prius as passengers are showing a preference for larger, more spacious vehicles.

“I expect that going forward, SUVs will increasingly become the vehicle of choice for both taxi operators and passengers based on the ever increasing demand for Silver Top Silver Service taxis.”

With retail prices for the seven-seat Kluger starting at $42,190 and topping out at a shade under $70,000 plus on-road costs for the all-wheel-drive Grande, the big SUV is one of Toyota’s more high-end offerings.

When asked if consumers would be put off by seeing scores of Klugers on the road operating as taxis, Ms Angel said it was unlikely that it would have any long-term impact on the re-sale value or diminish the strong Kluger ‘brand’.

“We do not believe this will happen if (Kluger) sales continue to increase within the taxi industry. In fact, if you look at popular vehicles amongst the taxi industry – in particular the Prius, Camry Hybrid and Camry – their brand appeal and value have not diminished over the years.

“If anything, these vehicles have had stronger brand appeal and recognition since they were introduced to the taxi fleet and a stronger used market can lift residuals as we have seen with Camry Hybrid.”

According to Ms Angel, Toyota Australia does not sell taxi packs. Instead, taxi providers organise the taxi modifications themselves to suit their own specific requirements.

Ford Australia stopped supplying taxis direct from the factory about a decade ago.

GM Holden does sell direct to taxi drivers and operators but the car-maker was unable to provide GoAuto with sales figures.

However, a company spokesperson said that an increasing number of taxi sales are from Australia’s used-car market.

“We do have specific pricing for taxi purchases but the new-car taxi market is extremely small in Australia,” he said.

“A large number of operators are purchasing ex-dealer demonstrators or ex-government vehicles in the case of hybrids.”

As GoAuto has previously reported, Australia’s taxi fleet will start to look quite different in the coming years, with the Chinese-owned London Taxi Company planning to roll out at least 1000 Geely TX4 London-style cabs over the next five years.

The purpose-built cabs have features not found in traditional modified passenger cars, such as a flexible interior, luggage space in the front passenger area, safety mechanisms and comfort and convenience features including USB charging and WiFi connectivity.

There are 21,000 licensed taxis already on Australia’s roads and they are under significant pressure from ride-sharing apps such as Uber.

Toyota Motor Company announced in May that it would take a stake in Uber as part of a strategic alliance that would allow the Japanese giant to offer vehicle leases to Uber drivers.

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