|Toyota NZ has released pictures and details of its new Hilux ute six months out from its official launch date, an unprecedented move calculated to try and slow down the sales advantage the Ford Ranger has established over the current Hilux.
Toyota has never released official images of upcoming models, not in the 26 years I have been writing about the motoring industry.
Indeed the company and its public relations people have for years played dead when talk turned to new models. A picture of a new Toyota wasn’t a picture of a new Toyota until Toyota NZ said it was.
And that was almost always around the time of the vehicle’s official launch – never many months beforehand, like it has done with new Hilux.
Dealer sources say Toyota has been forced by the sales success of the Ranger to jump the gun and trumpet what the new Hilux will bring to the market.
The Hilux range will total 21 models, nine of them new. Included are five two-wheel-drives with the ground clearance of a four-wheel-drive.
“These new two-wheel-drive variants are for those buyers who want the high-riding cab of a four-wheel-drive for its better visibility and tougher looks, but don’t need the go-anywhere capability,” said Spencer Morris, Toyota NZ’s General Manager of Product Planning.
The inclusion of the higher-riding two-wheel drives is not a breakthrough Toyota initiative – it was prompted by Ford’s success with similar Ranger models.
Indeed, Toyota executives have been heard mumbling on occasion over the past year or so that what they didn’t have was a jacked-up two-wheel-drive Hilux to challenge the jacked-up two-wheel-drive Ranger. Ford offered more automatic variants, too.
Toyota’s disadvantage is made clear by 2014 sales figures: Toyota sold one out of every four four-wheel-drive utes but only one out of every six-and-a-bit two-wheel-drive utes.
“The expanded model mix in our new Hilux range gives us the opportunity to cater for the expanding customer requirements from the ute segment,” said Steve Prangnell, Toyota NZ’s General Manager of Sales.
“Toyota has a proud tradition of success in the ute market. We believe the all-new Hilux with its great range of new features and technology gives us the ammunition to regain the number one spot in 2016.”
Hilux will be available in four grades, S and SR, aimed at fleet, company and business users. The higher specification SR5 and SR5 Limited offer car- and SUV-like equipment features, says Toyota.
Fifteen of the models will be powered by a new 2.8-litre diesel engine delivering 130kW and between 420/450Nm. The three S grade two-wheel-drive models have a slightly detuned 126kW version. The other three will continue with the 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine.
Buyers have a choice of six-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearboxes. A five-speed manual is fitted to the three entry-level two-wheel drives. Fuel economy has improved by up to 10 per cent, depending on the model, says Toyota.
The manual SR5 and SR5 Limited models have an intelligent manual transmission which is designed to avoid shift shock and ensure smooth gear changes. It also prevents the engine from stalling in first gear when the clutch is not engaged.
The braked tow rating of the Hilux rises to a range of 2500 to 3500kg, depending on the model. The outgoing Hilux offered 2250 to 2800kg.
Every new Hilux comes with a comprehensive safety package which includes seven airbags, emergency stop signal, trailer sway control, vehicle stability control and hill start assist. A reversing camera is fitted to all 17 models with a factory fitted wellside.
• The Ford Ranger is still enjoying a sales lead of more than 100 vehicles over the Hilux heading towards the sixth month of 2015.
Ford is hell-bent on hanging on to its advantage and will trot out the updated Ranger at the Feildays event near Hamilton in a few weeks.
The mid-life makeover includes a revised interior and a new-look front end that carries a hint of the face of the all-American Ford F150 truck, a design link that markets outside America have wanted for years.
Last year Ranger outsold Hilux, ending its 32-year reign as the best-selling workhorse in NZ.