Hi­ace sales ac­cel­er­ate in Au­gust


IF YOU’RE IN THE VAN DIS­TRI­BU­TION BUSI­NESS in New Zealand and you want to end the Toy­ota Hi­ace’s stran­gle­hold on the seg­ment, what do you do? More cor­rectly, maybe, what can you do? The way things are right now – and, in fact, the way they’ve been for 20-odd years – the only hope you’d have of achiev­ing the goal would be for the Ja­panese stal­wart to quit the mar­ket.

That’s not beyond the realms of pos­si­bil­ity. Af­ter all, the Hi­ace is no longer sold in Bri­tain or Europe where it has been re­placed by the Proace, a re­badged Peu­geot Ex­pert.

In fact, a cou­ple of years back, it had seemed likely that the Hi­ace would depart the NZ mar­ket. Elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol (ESC) was due to be­come manda­tory for new vans sold in New Zealand from July 1, 2015.

Like other vans of its type, the for­ward-con­trol, cab-over-engine Hi­ace didn’t have ESC, and the smart money sug­gested Toy­ota ei­ther couldn’t or wouldn’t go through the long and ex­pen­sive process of en­gi­neer­ing ESC on an old-de­sign ve­hi­cle.

It was sug­gested that in­stead, Toy­ota would bring in the Proace and re-badge it as a Hi­ace; the prob­lem with that was it would leave the brand with­out an equiv­a­lent for the long-wheel­base, wide-bod­ied ZX vari­ant which is pop­u­lar with minibus op­er­a­tors.

Toy­ota kept to its usual nei­ther-con­firm-nor-deny pol­icy, trot­ting out its “we don’t talk about fu­ture prod­uct” re­sponse that frus­trates mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists.

Then it sprang its big sur­prise and wheeled out a Hi­ace that had ESC but oth­er­wise was vir­tu­ally un­changed.

The cab-over-engine lay­out re­mained, as did the disc front/rear drum brak­ing sys­tem. There was some mi­nor tweak­ing of grille de­sign; and solid panel and half-solid/half-win­dow side panel vari­ants joined the win­dowed ver­sion in the ZL range. The ZX re­mained win­dow-sided only.

Not only did ESC keep the Hi­ace on the mar­ket, but it also got it back on the shop­ping lists of govern­ment de­part­ments and other agen­cies, and fleets that de­mand a high level of safety equip­ment.

And to­day, Hi­ace sales are boom­ing de­spite it be­ing the old­est -de­sign van on the mar­ket, built to a for­ward-con­trol pat­tern that is shared by no other new van sold lo­cally.

It’s not the cheap­est van, nor the eas­i­est to get into or out of, nor the best-rid­ing or best-equipped.

What it has, though, is the Toy­ota badge which con­tin­ues to weave its magic on New Zealand buy­ers.

In the early 1980s, Toy­ota New Zealand found it­self on the ropes with the rust­ing cars scan­dal that came to promi­nence with the at­trac­tively-styled but tin worm-rid­den rear-wheel drive Corona hatch­back coupe.

Its cars were also given a hard time on Dougall Steven­son’s TV mo­tor­ing show where road tester, For­mula 1 great, the late Chris Amon found them to be se­ri­ously lack­ing in road manners.

Toy­ota NZ was gal­vanised into ac­tion, work­ing hard to en­sure its cars were rust-re­sis­tant and draft­ing in Amon to trans­form their han­dling.

It also em­barked on some ad­ven­tur­ous TV ad­ver­tis­ing, em­ploy­ing a star of a then-pop­u­lar Amer­i­can en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try mag­a­zinestyle show to front its com­mer­cials for the Amon-tuned Corolla.

Later John Hore Grenell took an old Jim Reeves’ hit, “Wel­come to my World” and trans­formed it into “Wel­come to our World” to un­der­pin a Toy­ota brand­ing cam­paign that showed the Ja­panese make’s cars and LCVS in ev­ery­day use by New Zealan­ders from a wide range of eth­nic­i­ties and eco­nomic back­grounds.

The im­pli­ca­tion was that Toy­ota was the car and light com­mer­cial brand for all New Zealan­ders, a part of the fam­ily even.

The re­birth of the brand and the savvy mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns paid off – as did Toy­ota’s will­ing­ness to do good deals.

Over the years, Hilux be­came syn­ony­mous with ute, Corolla with car, Hi­ace with van in New Zealand mo­torists’ minds.

The dom­i­nance of the first two has been shaken in re­cent times – ended by the Ford Ranger in the case of the Hilux though it is fight­ing back – but the Hi­ace re­mains the ve­hi­cle of choice for most Kiwi van buy­ers.

That’s de­spite the fact that there are many ri­vals that cost around the same, carry the same amount but which are much more mod­ern-feel­ing and eas­ier to drive and live with.

Hi­ace monthly sales gen­er­ally hover around the 200 mark, give or take a few ei­ther way, but re­cently there’s been an up­ward trend, spo­radic to be sure, but up­wards nonethe­less.

Then along came Au­gust of this year and the Hi­ace per­formed as if it were a brand-new player in the mar­ket.

That a van which – aside from the adop­tion of ESC – has been vir­tu­ally un­changed for years, should in­crease its monthly sales by more than 50 per­cent is stag­ger­ing.

For in Au­gust, Toy­ota reg­is­tered 322 Hi­aces, tak­ing its yearto-date to Au­gust 31 to­tal to 2040, more than three times the num­ber amassed by its near­est ri­val, the Hyundai iload.

At the same time last year, Hi­ace sales sat at 1739 in a year that the model’s to­tal sales were 2600. That num­ber looks likely to be ex­ceeded in 2017.

The old work­horse may have an out­dated lay­out and be be­hind many of its ri­vals in terms of com­fort, re­fine­ment and ease of use but it re­mains em­bed­ded in the Kiwi psy­che as the model you buy when you’re buy­ing a van.

The cur­rent model’s days may be num­bered – a re­place­ment was ru­moured for this year, though that’s now un­likely.

Toy­ota NZ, of course, isn’t say­ing any­thing, but in­dus­try sources are sug­gest­ing a re­place­ment will ap­pear in the first half of 2018, and that it may be based on a Peu­geot chas­sis.

If that were to be true the Hi­ace would al­most cer­tainly go to front-wheel drive for the main­stream six cu­bic me­tre van; Peu­geot’s mid-sized vans are FWD.

A Hi­ace ZX re­place­ment would be prob­lem­at­i­cal. Peu­geot’s big van is a badge-en­gi­neered ver­sion of Fiat Pro­fes­sional’s fron­twheel drive Du­cato.

We sus­pect that, given the money and time put into reengi­neer­ing the rear-wheel drive Hi­ace for ESC, that Toy­ota won’t go down the front-wheel drive path.

Toy­ota is a tra­di­tional and con­ser­va­tive brand at heart, and its trucks are tra­di­tion­ally rear-wheel drive.

Rear-drive vans are also more ma­noeu­vrable in tight spa­ces, and the cur­rent Hi­ace can turn on a dime. We’d ex­pect Toy­ota to stay with that for­mula.

But time will tell, and of course Toy­ota NZ isn’t say­ing.

ZL is the smaller of the two van mod­els in the Hi­ace range.

Hi­ace cabin is not the aus­tere place it once was. Steer­ing wheel, dash­board and seats are car-like..

The two Hi­aces posed nose-to-nose show the height dif­fer­ence between the ZL (left) and the ZX.

ZX has a mas­sive cargo area and can carry 10 cu­bic me­tres of freight.

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