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 After all, the Hiace is no longer sold in Britain or Europe where it has been replaced by the Proace, a rebadged Peugeot Expert.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.