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Toyota eyes the Hi-Altar

Lifestyle: Sports utes are considered a key growth area.

Toyota believes its sporty new HiLux will help reclaim market leadership from Holden

Toyota logo5 Apr 2005

TOYOTA is confident an expanded range and sharp pricing for its seventh-generation HiLux - due in showrooms from this month - will return it to light commercial vehicle leadership this year, which in turn will allow it to reclaim total market dominance from Holden in 2005.

While Holden has worked hard to develop a range of all-wheel drive derivatives of its Commodore utility to complement its popular Rodeo range, Toyota in turn claims the all-new HiLux’s category-best V6 performance will open a potential goldmine of recreational vehicle customers – including Aussie sports ute buyers – for its so-called Action Utility Vehicle (AUV).

Toyota Australia sold a record 202,000 vehicles in 2004 – a year in which it launched no new models and faced supply shortages of its Corolla small car and the run-out HiLux.

HiLux accounted for 28,077 of those and came under heavy fire from Holden’s expansive Rodeo utility range.

While HiLux still narrowly outsold Rodeo in 2004 (it won 17.4 per cent share compared to Rodeo’s 16.2) and remains the dominant 4x4 ute force, Commodore-based utes helped Holden clinch LCV market leadership for the first time.

Despite a new V6 Courier variant from Ford and a sharpened Triton range from Mitsubishi, Toyota hopes to sell between 38,000 and 42,000 examples of the new HiLux in 2005, and also has new Rav4 and Echo models in store later this year.

Asked if Toyota can regain Australian market dominance in 2005, executive director of sales and marketing Dave Buttner told GoAuto: "We’ll knock them off, but we won’t give them away to do it.

"We can beat them in LCV and overall, but we need conquests as well as traditional repeat buyers," he said.

To achieve this, Toyota will emphasise the new HiLux’s best-in-class V6 performance, and is investigating an even hotter version than the SR5 under its new performance banner.

"The HiLux AUV brings big opportunities from horsepower," said executive chairman John Conomos. "The new unbreakable HiLux is the beginning of a Lexus-type LCV from Toyota." Mr Buttner confirmed HiLux SR5 could form the basis of a performance version in the same vein as the supercharged TS-01 Camry concept shown at the Melbourne motor show this month.

Unlike the performance version of the new Camry due in the second half of 2006, however, he warned HiLux performance might have to be limited.

"You could do heaps with SR5," he said. "TS-01 was the fi rst step. The next-generation Camry is the next step and if we chose to do HiLux next it would be eight to 12 months behind Camry.

"The look will be different, but the new V6 already offers benchmark performance so we’d have to look closely at it.

"We had approval in 2003, the budget and targets are set, TS-01 builds the relationship with the S-Com sports and conversions group in Japan and we’re fully bought into the sports conversion process."

8 center image Mr Buttner used last week’s HiLux launch to stress the surge in demand for sports utility vehicles. He said Toyota expects the availability of a quad-cam V6 in two-wheel drive guise to increase HiLux’s appeal dramatically.

Two-wheel drive ute sales are up 68 per cent over the past five years compared to 48 per cent for one-tonne 4x4s.

Owner research has showed 35 per cent of all Australian-made utes are not used for carrying loads. Just under 20 per cent of HiLux owners say they buy their vehicle purely for recreational purposes.

This implies that sports utilities could have comprised up to one quarter of last year’s 137,990-strong pick-up market, which represents 14 per cent of the total market – up from 11 per cent in 2000.

With more than a quarter of Commodore ute buyers under 30 years of age, Mr Buttner hopes HiLux will experience a similar shift in appeal to younger customers.

"Just as private buyers in the passenger vehicle market are moving to light and small cars, it’s likely that there will be a segment shift in the pick-up market," he said. "Smaller, lighter sports trucks, with attitude, are the coming trend." Toyota expects HiLux V6 to attract more than half of all petrol 4x2 HiLux sales – and 40 per cent of all new HiLux models – while higher demand for the SR5 Xtra-cab 4x2 as an Aussie ute rival is also predicted.

Meantime, turbo-diesel variants are forecast to comprise 36 per cent of sales, with 2.7 variants expected to drop from 45 to 24 per cent of the new HiLux mix.

Double-cab is expected to remain the most popular 4x4 bodystyle, at 60 per cent, while in 4x2 the single-cab’s mix should reduce from 70 per cent to less than 60 per cent following increased popularity of V6 Xtra-cab and turbo-diesel double-cab.

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