Our in-depth anal­y­sis of the New Zealand light com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle mar­ket in Au­gust and the first eight months of 2017.

LIKE A USURPED MEDIAEVAL KING PUTTING HIS dy­nasty back on the throne af­ter years in ex­ile, the Toy­ota Hilux re­gained the up­per hand in the New Zealand ute mar­ket in Au­gust.

In do­ing so, it rel­e­gated to sec­ond place the Ford Ranger which had en­joyed months, years even, of ute mar­ket – and in­deed to­tal new ve­hi­cle mar­ket – lead­er­ship.

Year-to-date (YTD), the Ranger still set the sales pace at Au­gust 31, but the Hilux, af­ter a long pe­riod of be­ing out-pointed by the Ford, got its nose ahead in July and beat its arch-ri­val by 89 reg­is­tra­tions in Au­gust.

That month, the most re­cent for which regis­tra­tion data was avail­able at presstime, Toy­ota sold 779 Hiluxes com­pared with Ford’s 690 Rangers.

In the YTD bat­tle, how­ever, the Ford re­mained well ahead, with 6327 reg­is­tra­tions to the Toy­ota’s 5517.

Whether the Hilux can re­tain the edge over the Ranger dur­ing the fi­nal four months of 2017 re­mains to be seen, as does whether it can close the gap between the two utes’ sales.

It looks un­likely to top­ple the Ford from the mar­ket lead it has held for the past three years, but as in­dus­try ob­servers have said of Toy­ota’s per­for­mance in the sales arena: if any­one can Toy­ota can.

Un­til it was de­throned at the end of 2014, the Hilux had oc­cu­pied the top spot for 32 years run­ning. Like its Hi­ace sta­ble­mate, the Hilux had be­come as syn­ony­mous with ute as the Hi­ace had with van.

The new model, which de­buted at the end of 2015, had been ex­pected to give the Hilux the equip­ment with which to carry the fight to – and de­feat – the Ranger which has largely re­de­fined the ute genre.

The Ford of­fers a ride qual­ity, re­fine­ment, and ease of use that makes it an ex­cel­lent dual role ve­hi­cle, ca­pa­ble of be­ing a rugged work­horse and com­fort­able fam­ily trans­port.

Put sim­ply, it can slip off the gum­boots and be a cred­i­ble citys­licker – not ex­actly patent leather shoes but cer­tainly Gucci Loafers.

To keep its truck ahead of the pack, Ford has in­sti­t­u­ated a pro­gramme of ef­fec­tive and reg­u­lar de­vel­op­ment, in­tro­duc­ing engine, steer­ing, sus­pen­sion and con­nec­tiv­ity up­grades.

The re­sult has been mar­ket dom­i­na­tion that be­gan in 2014 and con­tin­ued through 2016 and into this year.

De­spite the dom­i­nant po­si­tion of its truck, Ford has gen­er­ally avoided brag­gado­cio and gloat­ing, in­stead pur­su­ing a pol­icy of con­tin­u­ously im­prov­ing the prod­uct.

In its ma­jor re­vamp at the end of 2015, Toy­ota ad­dressed the weak­nesses in the Hilux model range, in a bid to counter Ford.

It in­creased the num­ber of two-wheel drive mod­els in its range and adopted high-rid­ing four-wheel drive-style sus­pen­sion on its rear-drive utes.

Two-wheel drives make up a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of Ranger sales, and Toy­ota moved to match the Ranger line-up with mod­els of its own.

The all-new Hilux was ex­pected to of­fer a real chal­lenge to the Ranger, but till this Au­gust that had failed to even­tu­ate.

Though it had an ex­cel­lent new engine and sweet-shift­ing six-speed man­ual and au­to­matic gear­boxes, the new Hilux had a lumpy ride and just didn’t have the city-friend­li­ness that has con­trib­uted so much to the Ranger’s suc­cess.

The ride lumpi­ness was present across the range, from the draught-horse mod­els to the range-top­ping SR5 Limit­eds, though nat­u­rally the lat­ter were more re­fined than more work­horse-ori­ented mod­els.

Only the lim­ited edi­tion TRD with its larger di­am­e­ter wheels and low pro­file tyres – a com­bi­na­tion that usu­ally im­pacts ad­versely on ride qual­ity – pro­vided a lit­tle more sup­ple­ness. And that led us to re­mark that this lim­ited-pro­duc­tion vari­ant was the best of the Hilux bunch.

Toy­ota in­sisted that there had been no changes to sus­pen­sion tune in the TRD. Nowa­days the TRD badge re­ally refers to a trim pack­age rather than a ve­hi­cle tweaked for high­per­for­mance.

But over our sec­tion of rough, lumpy ur­ban tar­mac that shows up weak­nesses in ride qual­ity, the TRD was a rev­e­la­tion.

This sec­tion of road had left us con­sid­er­ing leav­ing an­other test Hilux at home and us­ing the of­fice Corolla for the daily com­mute. That’s how bad the ride qual­ity was. But the TRD felt much more com­posed than its sib­lings.

Which left us won­der­ing whether Toy­ota NZ had in­deed mod­i­fied the sus­pen­sion tun­ing, and by ex­trap­o­la­tion whether that tun­ing has been ap­plied to main­stream Hiluxes.

For, what­ever the rea­son for its resur­gence, as the sec­ond half of this year started, the Hilux fi­nally hit its straps and eased past Ford in monthly sales. And the only area in which the Ja­panese ute was se­ri­ously lag­ging, was ride qual­ity.

Whether the Blue Oval ute’s bub­ble has fi­nally burst re­mains to be seen, and it’s sure to fight back strongly. Af­ter all, the Ranger is the key ve­hi­cle in Ford’s NZ range, out­per­form­ing its other of­fer­ings

The fi­nal four months are shap­ing up to be a re­newed bat­tle royal between the two mar­ket-dom­i­nat­ing utes.

Ford won the last clash but can the Toy­ota re-as­sert it­self? We’ll keep you posted.

But as the mo­tor trade wis­dom goes, if any­one can, Toy­ota can.

Be­low: Toy­ota mar­kets more than 20 Hilux vari­ants; this is­re­mains ahead year-to-date.

Fac­ing page: Toy­ota Hilux re­gained the ute mar­ket lead – and with it the over­all NZ new ve­hi­cle mar­ket lead – for Au­gust but Ford Ranger re­mains ahead year-to-date.

Above: Ranger re­mains at the top of the sales chart and looks like to stay on top for the fourth year run­ning.

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