HiAce Hiatus

Can Toyota’s van range stand the test of time?

With over 250,000 sales, it’s been the leading van on the Australian market since its first appearance, but with increasing pressure from Korean products, such as Hyundai’s iLoad, there are some cracks appearing in the Toyota HiAce sales figures that might need more than a facelift to repair.

Through 2010, Australians bought 7,610 HiAce vans and 2,235 HiAce buses, giving Toyota a clear 33.1 percent of the van market and 95.9 percent of the light bus market. Hyundai chased the HiAce hard, with its iLoad scoring 5,990 sales for a market share of 26 percent. Into third place tumbled the Ford Transit, dropping sales from 2,213 units in 2009, to 1,682 last year, and a market share reduction from 9.0 percent in 2009 to 7.3 percent.

With HiAce supremacy under threat, it’s interesting to look at how its current competition is fairing. Also to be considered is the “Gathering of the Clans” when it comes to Chinese made vans that could soon be flooding our market with HiAce look-alikes available a greatly reduced pricing.

From a situation where Ford, with its Transit range, was a consistent second place achiever, the company appears to have simply lost interest in light vans. The lack of national print media campaigns and the inability of the company to develop an automatic transmission to suit the Transit all helping to create its fall from favour.Toyota-Hiace_5

With a market share of 5.7 percent and sales of 1,312 units, the fourth place position went to Mitsubishi and the Express, proof indeed that no matter how old the product, there are some buyers out there that will simply make their decisions on price alone. This was evidenced by the Kia Pregio in past years, and continues with the Express today.

Volkswagen is the interesting European infiltrator for light van sales figures, and, with combined sales of the Caddy and Transporter, this German manufacturer can claim a total market share of 15.7 percent for total sales of 3613 units. With 1,630 sales attributable to the Transporter, the success of the VW medium van range should alone ring warning bells at other European importers.

The German attack is also being continued by Mercedes-Benz with the Vito range, and a revision of specifications, plus a livening up of appearances, might help lift sales performance, nationally, from a poor average of 977 units for a market share of 4.2 percent. Mercedes-Benz, like Ford, has tended to overlook marketing opportunities in the light commercial division, leaving much of the activity to individual dealerships rather than leading from the front line. The release of new upgrades for 2011 does, however, provide MB with the opportunity to kickstart interest for what is an excellent range of vehicles.

By contrast, the remaining European manufacturers have been left trying to balance their marketing budgets by favouring the higher volumes of passenger car sales, while still maintaining some budget for van promotion. Citroen’s Berlingo and Dispatch jointly gained a market share of 1.6 percent with sales of 370 units, down by 12 units from 2009, while Peugeot, with its Expert and Partner, scored 0.9 percent of the segment with sales of 201 units. Fiat scored 0.7 percent of market share with sales of the Scudo at 153 units.

A major loser here was Renault, and with a combined performance for its Kangoo and Trafic of just 1.0 percent, and sales of 229 units, its performance was a far cry from the previous year where volumes totalled 784 units for a market share of 3.2 percent.

Meanwhile, back at the Toyota campfire, executives have been planning how to redress the reduction in appeal of the HiAce that saw it lower sales in 2010 by 1313 units and by 3.2 percentage points.

The answer, for Toyota, has been to take the existing 5th generation range of HiAce vans and Commuter buses, and increase engine performance by boosting the power of its turbo-diesel range by 25 per cent, to 100 kW, and increase active safety across the board.

Toyota has recalibrated the 1KD-FTV turbo-diesel engine to deliver an additional 20 kW of power and 14 Nm of torque – coupled with fuel-economy and emission improvements of up to seven per cent. Also, the company has now finally included the added safety of ABS anti-lock braking systems, as standard equipment, as part of an upgrade to the HiAce range, adding to the dual SRS airbags already standard across the range. The HiAce Commuter bus has lap-sash seatbelts for all 14 seating positions, and a new Option Pack offers the choice of an Auto Door closer for the side sliding door.

Toyota-Hiace_2HiAce’s improved engine matches a taller final drive ratio of 3.727:1, compared with the superseded 3.909:1 ratio, making full use of increased maximum torque.

The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel now has 100 kW of power at 3400 rpm and 300 Nm of torque from 1200-2400 rpm, a considerable improvement for the 16-valve, double overhead camshaft, turbocharged common rail (direct injection) engine.

Fuel economy and emissions improve by up to seven percent. The LWB turbo-diesel manual model now returns 8.0 litres/100 km, on the ADR 81/02 combined cycle, and 210 g/km emissions (previously 8.6 litres/100 km and 225 g/km).

The HiAce upgrade extends from the engine to the exterior and interior. The vehicle has a new front mask, with revised headlamp, radiator grille and front bumper designs. Inside, HiAce has improved its instrument meter dial styling and revised the shift-lever bezel styling on automatic transmission models. The interior trim colour changes from grey to dark grey.

For those preferring petrol power, the output of the 2.7-litre, balance-shaft equipped Twin-Cam Multi-Valve petrol engine remains unchanged at 111 kW of power at 4800 rpm and 241 Nm of torque at 3800 rpm. The combined fuel economy figure for the manual five-speed is placed at 11.6 l/100 km. Both the petrol and diesel engines can be matched to five-speed manual or electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, both with dashboard-mounted gear lever (and gated shift on the automatic).

Even with its power and torque upgrade, the HiAce loses out on ride and drive comfort, front cabin space and ease of entry and exit when compared to the European and Korean SBV (Semi-bonneted Vans). And, with a four-speed automatic transmission, the driveline spec is looking very dated.

But, to understand the HiAce specification it is necessary to look at the global market objectives held by Toyota. As the leading van on sale in the Asian market, the objective with HiAce was to provide a large cargo area, even if it meant that load carrying advantage would be at the expense of the cabin space.

Back in 2005, Toyota executives and designers working on the project admitted they had not included European vans in the benchmarking for the development of the 5th generation product. Comparison came only from the previous HiAce model and, of course, the 5th generation outclassed its 4th generation predecessor.

Over the next 12 months, Australia is likely to see a whole new vision for vehicle ownership presented by China.Toyota-Hiace_1

Chinese manufacturer, Higer, is keen to commence export to Australia of its HiAce lookalike. The engine range on offer includes two engines (one petrol 4RB2, one diesel DK4B ) developed in conjunction with Toyota, plus a further petrol four-cylinder, the 4G69, developed in conjunction with Mitsubishi and with an engine management system by Delphi. The DK4B uses technology developed by Bosch, and, when launched in 2008, was the first common-rail diesel in China meeting Euro IV emissions standards.

Power outputs for the petrol engines are 100-102 kW, with torque ratings from 200-217 Nm. The output of the DK4B diesel engine, at 85 kW and 260 Nm of torque, might be considered too small for our market.

Toyota’s great strength in the Australian market has resulted from a high reputation for reliability, customer service and resale value. The reputation of European manufacturers hinges on improved driver and passenger comfort, better ride and drive capabilities, and greater product sophistication. As the Chinese manufacturers add their lower priced models into the equation, the next 12 months could be very interesting.

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