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TRD in lock-down

Long time coming: Toyota launched its second TRD model, the supercharged HiLux, this month.

Toyota personnel locked away for a month to sort out the TRD performance brand

Toyota logo15 Apr 2008

TOYOTA’S new high-performance brand has undergone a major rethink and will not launch a third model for at least two years to follow the TRD Aurion launched last August and the TRD HiLux released this month.

The company has told GoAuto that the next model has not yet been chosen – although the Corolla has definitely been ruled out – and that a decision will be made by June, with another 18 to 24 months required for development.

TRD’s first year has been marred by delayed introductions, a month-long sales freeze resulting from a blown engine, a $4000-plus price drop for the TRD Aurion just six months after launch and the abandonment of its exclusive dealer regime – but the company puts it all down to a steep learning curve.

No doubt there have been painful lessons for many within Toyota Australia, too, because two months ago most of the key players were “locked in a room” for a month to review the entire operation.

Toyota Australia executive director of sales and marketing David Buttner told GoAuto that 15 people – including designers, engineers, sales, marketing and customer service representatives – were locked away for 20 working days from mid-January.

However, he rejects the suggestion that it was more a council of war than a regular review.

“It was part of our plan in that we are doing something (with TRD) we’ve never done before,” said Mr Buttner. “We’re not just launching the next generation of an existing model.

 center imageLeft: Yaris SR and TRD Aurion.

“So it was imperative, and an integral part of the original plan, to sit down six months in and rip apart everything that you’ve done. It was done in a very genuine way and my simple instructions were that there are no Holy Grails, so don’t be frightened to come out of the process and say perhaps we didn’t take the right path here or there.”The results of that meeting included the March 1 price drop – by $4000 on the TRD Aurion 3500S and $4510 on the 3500SL – and the decision to make the TRD models available from all Toyota dealerships rather than a select few.

Mr Buttner said the changes to the TRD game plan were not surprising considering it is moving into a completely new area for Toyota, with a different market demographic. Australia is pioneering the concept of TRD as a car brand rather than just a line of performance and racing parts.

“Make no mistake, establishing a brand is not an easy thing to do,” said Mr Buttner, who believes that TRD is a necessary long-term investment to expand Toyota’s appeal beyond quality, reliability and resale value, and bring some emotion to the purchase decision.

“We’re looking at a totally different demographic than we’ve looked at historically, so there’s a whole lot of firsts in this for us,” he said.

“We don’t have any previous experience, and when you don’t have any previous experience in something you always do things with the best intent and the best plans in mind, but then you have to ensure that your process is robust enough that you draw a line in the sand every so often (and) do a check.

“You go back – here’s what we wanted to achieve in going down this road, here’s what we’ve achieved versus those objectives, have we fulfilled them, are we changing the mindset, are we starting to be seen as inspirational and emotional, do people recognise and understand that Toyota now has a performance brand?

“That’s some of the reflection we did back in January when we locked a lot of people up for quite a long period of time and one of the decisions we changed, which we thought was an appropriate decision at the outset, was in relation to having a limited distribution network.

“One of (Toyota’s) biggest strengths is our mass marketing capability and, in having a limited distribution network, we were inhibiting our ability as the factory – and our dealers the opportunity to benefit from – the mass marketing.

“Now, we can include TRD in any campaigns we’re having, we can include it in (advertising) in the paper – you don’t have to say ‘just available at these select dealers’. So you can get that mass marketing happening to help establish and land this brand the same way we would with a normal Toyota product.”Toyota has expanded TRD’s presence at performance-type events to include drag racing, drifting, sprintcars, stunt cars and Targa Tasmania this year, whereas last year it was limited to the successful Australian Rally Championship program with Simon Evans and Neal Bates.

Mr Buttner confirmed that the Yaris is a contender to be the third TRD model, but GoAuto understands the RAV4 could be in with a better chance because it is now available with the same 3.5-litre V6 as the standard Aurion, and would require a similar validation program undertaken for the TRD Aurion.

Of course, the Kluger is also powered by the same basic 3.5 V6, but its more family-oriented demographic is less likely to stump up for the price premium a TRD Kluger would command.

The Corolla has been eliminated as the third TRD candidate because Toyota's skunkworks cannot get enough power out of Toyota’s best-selling model – a scenario first mooted by GoAuto in November, when TRD was still evaluating its Corolla options.

He said that engineers working with the four-cylinder engine had fallen 20-25kW short of an acceptable target for the competitive ‘hot-hatch’ market.

A wild 200kW 3.5-litre V6-engined ‘Blade’ model sold overseas is only made in left-hand drive (the RHD Japanese market only gets the 123kW 2.4-litre four-cylinder Blade) and would therefore be too expensive to re-engineer given the limited numbers for TRD.

However, Mr Buttner left the door open for the V6 Corolla to come to Australia as a mainstream Toyota model because the extra sales potential would cover the cost of engineering it for RHD.

“We still haven’t locked in on a third (TRD) model and we’re not hell-bent on whatever time we go to market by,” he said.

“This is a flexible program that will be driven by the circumstances prevailing in the marketplace at the time and how well the brand is being established and embedded in the psyche of the Australian consumer.

“We’re still going through our internal deliberations and, frankly, we’re not hung up on timing. Everyone keeps pushing for when we will announce it and when it will be.

“I can’t see anything (coming out) this year. I’d like to think we’ll have an announcement before June.”

Read more:

First drive: TRD HiLux treads where no others dare

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