SIXTH SENSE | VAN REVIEW – Toyota HiAce

Toyota announces its sixth-generation HiAce

It has taken 15 years for Toyota to finally replace its current but ageing cab-over-engine delivery van with a shift to the SBV (Semi-Bonneted Van) design that has been so successful for its global competitors.

The HiAce story started in 1967 with the first HiAce, which was offered as a cabover ute, a delivery van and a stretched commuter vehicle. It has also formed the basis of many motorhome and campervan conversions, undoubtedly providing a roof over the heads of many hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers through its career.

The second-generation model ran from 1977 to 1982 with a longer, more streamlined cab appearance, and it was at this time a further model called the LiteAce was added to the range. Gen Three arrived in 1982, lasting until 1989, followed by Gen Four which stayed in production until 2004.  Finally, Gen Five arrived, staying in production until this year. Manufacturing of this model continues for some less-advanced markets, in parallel with the start-up of production for Generation Six.

Delivery magazine attended the launch of the Gen Five model in Japan back in 2004 and was given the opportunity to question the design team about the development programme. We asked which other vehicles − specifically those of European manufacturers such as Ford, Renault, Iveco, Fiat, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz − had been selected for benchmark comparisons.

The intention of the question was to understand which models the team considered to be dominant and superior in term of safety features, driver comfort and convenience factors, as they determined how to step ahead of the competition.

The answer from the head of the design team was interesting, to say the least. He explained that Toyota only benchmarked its new Gen Five model against the outgoing Gen Four version. The European manufacturers did not figure in their thinking at all.  Consequently, while the media might reasonably have expected to note a leap forward in technology and ability, the result was simply an upgrade in some standards with a new sheetmetal appearance covering the same basic formula.

The reasoning behind this decision can be easily explained in terms of the common use of the rectangular box design. The objective was to produce a vehicle capable of carrying the maximum number of fruit or vegetable boxes or other cargo. Capacity was the guiding factor, and the driver preferences, safety and comfort were not a prime consideration, as there would always be a willing substitute to replace the driver when required.

Toyota was not interested in competing head-to-head with the more sophisticated European products; rather, it wanted to supply a lower-cost, less sophisticated unit that carried cargo and could be easily maintained. It had already conquered the ASEAN market and the Europeans could not compete on price, despite the added comforts and safety technologies incorporated into their designs.

With the statement that production of Gen Five will continue basically unchanged for selected markets, it appears these original sales strategies have changed little. The difference, though, with the announcement of the Generation Six model is that European customers are now in their sights, and Toyota is open for business to supply light commercial vehicles to rival those from Europe.

Details of the new sixth-generation models remain scant prior to the official Australian launch, but full details should be on hand for the June/July version of Delivery.

What we can say is that Toyota expects a maximum five-star safety rating. There will be new engines and longer wheelbases, and from a performance and safety perspective drivers will find the new HiAce will provide improved straight-line performance and stability while maintaining the expected ratio of cargo space versus cabin, even with a change to the semi-bonneted design.

A shift to the SBV design has enabled the development team to implement significant changes with a stiffer frame, stronger straight-line performance, greater stability and manoeuvrability, and more compliant suspensions.

Arriving in Australia mid-year, the all-new HiAce van will be available with two-seat vans in long (LWB) and super-long wheelbase (SLWB) configurations, five-seat LWB crew vans, and 12-seat SLWB Commuter buses.

Toyota Australia vice president, sales and marketing, Sean Hanley told Delivery he expected the all-new HiAce to meet the safety, comfort and reliability needs of owner-drivers, private drivers, passengers, fleet and corporate users.

“All-new HiAce is the total solution for transporting cargo, tourists, workers and families,” Mr Hanley said.

“Beyond expanding the vehicle’s core mission as capable, durable and reliable transport, it has now stepped up to deliver the comfort and safety that today’s motorists demand for private use.

“Importantly, we anticipate even better whole-of-life costs with excellent reliability and resale value, along with minimal downtime and affordable maintenance. The semi-bonnet design makes it significantly easier and quicker to replace parts such as the oil and air filters, battery, and coolant.

“In addition to being highly capable right off the showroom floor, the all-new HiAce has been designed to offer immense flexibility through conversions and customisation to meet varied business and personal needs.”

The sixth-generation HiAce range will be offered with two new engines − a 2.8-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel or a 3.5-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol, both available with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Excellent cargo capacity − a hallmark of every HiAce − has been maintained at a maximum of 6.2 (LWB) and 9.3 cubic metres (SLWB) due to longer wheelbases and clever packaging that increases internal width by 215 mm and height by 5 mm without altering overall exterior width.

The SLWB two-seat van is capable of accommodating Australian standard pallets (1165 mm x 1165 mm) through its wider sliding side doors.

The all-new HiAce is expected to achieve the maximum five-star safety rating due to its highly rigid structure and advanced safety technologies, including a pre-collision system with autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian and cyclist detection.

A reversing camera and up to nine airbags are complemented by an optional digital rear-view mirror that provides a wide field of view unobstructed by headrests, occupants or cargo. The bottom edge of the front door is lower and comes with a wider step for easier access. Larger front-door glass and a lower beltline improve visibility.

Towing capacity has been expanded to a maximum 1900 kg on key variants, an improvement of up to 500 kg.

Newly developed MacPherson struts at the front provide excellent handling and stability, as well as ride comfort. In the rear, the new leaf spring suspension span has been increased by 200 mm, extending the bound stroke by an impressive 30 mm for a comfortable ride while enhancing handling and stability.

Customer use has been a priority, with new locally-developed Toyota Genuine accessories available from launch.

Numerous flat-mount surfaces and anchor points make it easy to alter the vehicle for specialised use. Toyota will also provide a detailed guide to assist body builders.

One thing’s for sure − with Australian customers having bought more than 330,000 HiAce vehicles since its inception, there will be many buyers keen to see first-hand just what the all-new HiAce brings to the market.

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