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Toyota eyes local people-mover

Family mover: Toyota's US-Built Sienna is based on the Camry platform.

Toyota looks at building a third Australian-produced model and a people-mover is one of the favoured options

Toyota logo29 May 2000

By BRUCE NEWTON

TOYOTA is considering building a people-mover in Australia and pushing for its own design studio, according to chief engineer Mr Max Gillard.

Having recently transformed the superseded US model Avalon into the first full-size challenger for Ford and Holden since the Leyland P76, Mr Gillard believes a third locally-produced model should be a people-mover rather than a four-wheel drive.

Toyota Australia wanted the Avalon in place of the Corolla because the Avalon could be re-engineered to accept a version of the platform already underpinning the Camry.

Platform sharing is a huge cost benefit and one of the mantras of the modern motoring industry. Another key is amortisation of cost, which is why Toyota Australia would like to increase Altona's annual capacity from 106,000 to 150,000.

Mr Gillard is one of the key figures in these plans, as he is Toyota's general manager, purchasing and planning, as well as being a senior engineer.

He believes extra capacity would be used up by a third model rather than increasing the Camry or Avalon production beyond today's levels.

Avalon is expected to sell 24,000 units annually.

Mr Gillard wants to develop a people-mover based on the Camry/Avalon platform.

"That would be the go, to shift from 100,000 to 150,000 all fundamentally on the same platform would be sensational because of all the economies of scale," he said.

Although people-movers have not been huge volume sellers in Australia, Mr Gillard points to the US experience where the passenger car has foundered under the onslaught of a bevy of practical multi-functional vehicles, including the 'mini-van'.

He believes the same thing can happen here if the price is right. In America, Toyota builds a Camry-based people-mover called Sienna that could be adapted for Australia. It uses the same 3.0-litre V6 engine as the Camry and Avalon.

Building a 4WD here would be nowhere near as cost effective, even though the category is booming.

"The big issue is the driveline and aside from the Borg-Warner plant at Albury nobody does transfer cases, so all that would need to be imported, or we'd have to make it ourselves, and that would just be prohibitive," Mr Gillard said.

"Our experience in Australia is everything except engines. On Avalon we import the engine and transaxle, but on a 4WD you have to import the engine, transmission, rear axle, front axle and so on. All you'd be doing is banging some panels together and sticking some plastic in it.

"The other thing that's going to determine it (the success or failure of a third product line) here - as it always does in Australia - is the retail price." Pricing a vehicle between $30,000-$35,000 should be a recipe for success, he said.

Mr Gillard also said the Avalon presented Toyota Australia with the opportunity to develop its own styling capability when a re-skinned car is launched in about five years.

Physically, the Avalon is almost unchanged from the US donor model, the most significant difference being the re-designed grille, which Toyota Australia had to commission from independent styling house Millard.

"We had to go to Millard because we don't have our own styling team," said Mr Gillard.

"What I want to develop is a core group which can manage a design program like that."

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