We were recently accused of writing bad things about a Toyota – simply because it’s a Toyota. David Sutherland wrote a letter titled “Boot-out” (read it in the letters section of issue 110, June 2013), in which he surmised that our recent panel-based shoot-out between the Toyota Fortuner and Chevrolet Trailblazer was clearly a one-sided, biased affair.
In short, he suggested that our judging panel, in which five of the eight judges owned a Land Rover, was clearly only interested in “payback” for all the rude Land Rover jokes that prevail in the Toyota ranks. Mr Sutherland, you don’t know the men who helped us with this test. We specifically chose our panel members because they are honest of opinion, call a spade a spade, and were independent of the brands on test. If we had chosen five judges who all drove Mitsubishi Tritons, surely a conspiracy theorist could dream up a reason why the Triton men would have been biased towards either the Toyota or Chevrolet?
Not all Land Rover owners hate Toyotas and are seeking revenge. The vast majority of Land Rover owners are open-minded, intelligent people who are well informed and know their facts about a lot of different products. They are generally not the vindictive type.
Mr Sutherland also writes that we “perpetuated the ridicule of Toyota by calling the Hilux underpowered, unrefined and uncomfortable”, while discussing the results of the recent Towcar of the Year results.
With all due respect, when compared to its newer rivals, the eight-year-old Hilux is underpowered, unrefined and uncomfortable. It is still extremely solid, dependable and capable at the same time. When the all-new Hilux eventually arrives, it will – most probably – blow the competition out of the water again. However, until that day arrives, the current Hilux remains outdated.
Which begs the question: What is it with Toyota? Why are they not winning all the shoot-outs and competitions anymore? Why are magazines like this one pointing out some obvious shortcomings?
Well, I reckon it’s simply because Toyota has fallen victim of the time- consuming, methodical way in which the company develops and introduces new models to the market.
For instance, when a new Hilux is designed in Japan, test units will be sent to SA, to Toyota’s state-of-the-art testing grounds near Durban. There the new vehicles will face exhaustive tests on a track designed to break cars. As soon as a component fails, it is analysed, checked, redesigned, sent to Japan, sent back to SA, tested again – and so the cycle goes on and on until the vehicle is as solid and as reliable as the engineers can possibly make it. Clearly this process takes time and requires many resources.
Nevertheless, this “quality control system” obviously gives Toyota a huge advantage over most other manufacturers. And it is largely thanks to this legendary reliability that the company has achieved its success in SA.
However, it is almost as if the slow- turning cogs in the Toyota research and development machine were left running without oil for some years. Although there is an exciting new bevy of Toyota products landing on our shores right now, they just seem a few years too late.
And many of the other manufacturers have seized the moment, cashing in on this long lead time for the introduction of new models.
What I’m trying to say is that it is not the Toyota product that is causing the brand to lose ground. On the contrary, the product is still awesomely capable and reliable and all that. It is rather the timing of the introduction of new models that seems to be the missing spoke in the Toyota wheel at the moment.
A gap of nine or ten years between new-model introductions is just too long in today’s fast-paced world where we are being dazzled by newer and better gadgets and gear every day.
In the meantime, other manufacturers are making hay. Ford’s Ranger double cab is now on a par and outselling the Hilux double cab, while the new Isuzu KB and VW Amarok have also made a dent in Hilux sales.
I conclude with the poignant story of a farmer in Limpopo – a hardboiled Toyota man. The farmer says:
“I’ve been a Toyota man all my life. But then the local Volkswagen dealership came up with a cunning plan. They made an arrangement with all the farmers in the area, and gave us each a VW Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion AT to drive for two days. It was a no obligations deal.
“I was really impressed, but I was still not 100 percent convinced. Then I drove the Hilux to town – and realised what a huge step forward the Amarok actually is. The brakes, the performance, the interior, the comfort – the VW is just more modern and refined.” A brand-new VW Amarok AT, fitted with a Seikel suspension and all-terrain tyres, is now parked in his driveway. And most of his farmer friends have apparently gone the same route. You have to give it to this VW sales team: They saw the gap, and they certainly took it!
So, we don’t hate Toyotas. We actually like them more than we are supposed to. But we are also realists who try to provide our readers with fair and balanced impressions of the vehicles we test and compare. And in this process everything doesn’t always go, well… Toyota’s way.