It has often been said that
Toyota is like a giant oil tanker: it is big and has enormous power but
when it comes to changing course, it takes a while for things to happen…
but once it has changed course, competitors beware! This analogy is
coming true now as the company starts to introduce a new range of
products developed along different business models to meet the new
competitors from Korea.
The first ‘shot’ fired was with
the Toyota Vios, a sedan conceived primarily with the Asian market
(particularly China) in mind and took intro consideration the economic
levels of many markets. This meant it had to be priced more affordably
than a Corolla, historically the entry-level model for Toyota. The
Corolla had brought millions of people around the world into the Toyota
family since 1966 but over the decades, especially from the late 1980s,
its price rose to the point where it could not be considered
With the Vios, which used the New
Basic Concept (NBC) platform developed for this century, Toyota came up
with a new sedan which had an affordable pricetag below RM90,000 without
compromising in the one area which it had built its reputation – build
quality. Decades of building cars has taught Toyota engineers how to
‘build in’ quality into their products and even when it has come to
developing cars that cost less to build – and therefore can be cheaper
in the showrooms – they know just how to do it well.
Now comes the second shot – the
Toyota Avanza, a small MPV which is an entirely new model line. It is
not adapted from an existing model anywhere in the world and was
developed specifically for this region.
"My brief was to develop the
Avanza for the Asean region and at this time, we are only thinking of
selling it in the Asean markets. Perhaps we may also offer it in other
countries outside Asean but it is not something we are looking at for
now," said Kaoru Hosokawa, the Chief Engineer for the Avanza who was
present at the media preview this morning.
That Toyota chose a MPV for its
second low-cost effort was probably influenced by the huge success of
the Kijang/Unser over the years. Although the sedan is still a popular
bodystyle, people-carriers are much more popular in Indonesia and the
Philippines and sell in very large volumes, In Indonesia especially, the
Kijang has become something of a ‘national car’ given its sales
As you will see from the Avanza
advertisements which will appear from October 29th, this new Toyota
model ‘breaks the rules’ in the area of pricing. It retails for as low
as RM55,967 (with insurance too) for the manual version and RM59,989.88
for the automatic – price levels which are extremely unusual for a
Toyota today. Older readers will recall that the last time a Toyota
Corolla cost this ‘little’ was in the late 1980s.
Getting down to this price level
was not easy and according to sources at UMW Toyota Motor, long and hard
battles were fought with their principals to get the price down as low
as possible. The Avanza itself was already the subject of intelligent
cost-cutting measures to make it cheaper to produce so the retail price
was a matter of how much profit was desired – or how much Toyota was
willing to give up to capture even more market share.
Being a company that has always
looked very long-term, it can safely be presumed that Toyota has been
willing to make less money today to gain market share, which is crucial
for the future as the market opens up. They do their homework well and
when they are ready, they blast in and displace many others.
So let’s take the first look at
the Avanza now. At a glance, it may look like a very modern but smaller
version of the Unser but that’s to be expected since there is only so
much you can do with a one-box MPV (although the French still find some
unusual approaches to take). However, the front end is imposing and
incorporates styling cues which you will see in other Toyota models. The
multi-reflector headlights seem over-sized for the body but should give
good illumination while the deep front bumper gives a sense of strength.
Talking of strength, the Avanza
body is GOA-certified, which means it satisfies Toyota’s Global
Outstanding Assessment crash tests, a must for every new model. GOA
crash tests are comparable to the toughest international standards and
even exceed them in some areas (eg rear-end collisions). However, it
should be noted that airbags and ABS are not present as these add a
significant cost which will impact the price. Of course, there will be
those who say they are prepared to pay the extra money and presumably,
UMW Toyota Motor will be listening to feedback to see if there are
enough people who will do this and then add the safety features.
The powertrain is one of the more
advanced areas of the Avanza and the engine is one which Malaysians have
already seen and experienced in the Perodua Kembara DVVT. It’s the same
1298 cc 4-cylinder engine – even the engine code is the same – but not
exactly the same in that the engine control unit (ECU) programming is
different to be more suited to MPV usage.
As with the newer Toyotas, the
long-stroke engine has VVT-i which stands for Variable Valve Timing –
intelligent. The mechanism, along with four valves per cylinder and dual
overhead camshafts, boosts output, enhances fuel efficiency as well as
reduces pollutants in the exhaust gases. With VVT-i providing
continuously variable valve timing, the compact engine offers
performance that is similar to conventional engines in the 1.5 litre
class. It has ample torque at low to medium speeds and can also
effortlessly accelerate to high speeds. Maximum power output is 65 kW/89
ps at 6000 rpm while maximum torque is 120 Nm at 3200 rpm. Customers
have a choice of 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic transmissions.
The Avanza has rear-wheel drive
which, in the view of Chief Engineer Hosokawa, is more suitable for this
type of vehicle and also better for the conditions in the Asean area.
While front-wheel drive has its merits and comes in very useful when
more space in the cabin is needed, the 4070 mm long Avanza already has
enough body length so having RWD is not disadvantageous. It is better
when a full load is carried and provides better rear-end traction as
weight distribution is better,
The suspension (by the way, the
bodywork is monocoque, like a passenger car’s) has a simple design too,
making for low cost. Up front are independent MacPherson struts and at
the rear, the live axle is located by a 4-link arrangement and rides on
coil springs. It’s a proven layout and one which is also durable.
It is also evident that the
designers did a lot of studies of this region and found that apart from
rough road conditions, there is also flooding along roads. To make sure
that Avanza owners have no problems in such conditions, the ground
clearance is a generous 180 mm and like the Unser, the air intake is set
high up, out of the way of even water splashes into the engine bay.
The rest of the chassis is
conventional with a disc/drum brake combination and the tyres have a
size of 185/70R14. On the manual version, 5J steel wheels are standard
while the automatic comes with alloy wheels (the spare is steel).
Versatility is another highlight
of the Avanza and in the spacious cabin, there are three rows of seats
to accommodate seven adults. It’s actually very impressive packaging to
get the third row into a body with this length and what’s more, the
third row is actually comfortable enough for adults. It’s not like the
third row seats in some vehicles which are just cushioned pads planted
on the cargo area floor and people sitting on them have their knees
under their chins.
The second and third row can be
folded flat for more cargo space but the third row cannot be removed
altogether. Folding of the seats is easy and access to the third row is
done by folding the second row seat flat and then flipping it up. The
only odd thing is that you can only flip up the seat on the left side as
the one of the right won’t do that. So it seems like the model was
conceived with righthand drive markets in mind.
The dashboard has a nice modern
look with an ergonomically efficient layout of controls and switches.
Recognising that the cassette format is going the way of the dinosaurs,
UMW Toyota Motor’s products planners have fitted a 1-DIN head unit with
a CD-player and radio.
For the driver, there’s a very
clean instrument panel layout with a touch of sportiness. A tiny
differentiation between the manual and automatic version is that the
odometer for the former is an analogue type whereas the automatic gets a
digital LCD display. The switchgear is classic Toyota, meaning it has a
solid feel while the steering wheel has a nice style. Steering column
adjustment is not available so you have to live with the position chosen
All the conveniences we’ve come
to take for granted are present including power windows (front and rear)
and central locking. As a first in its class, the Avanza’s
air-conditioning system is a dual blower type with a second set of vents
on the ceiling to blow cool air to the rear. The fan speed for the
second blower is also adjustable although it would be nice if a switch
could be put on the dashboard for the driver to switch it off when not
Storage space is always an
important thing in a car these days and even more so in a MPV. For the
Avanza, there are no less than 17 storage areas and these include
cupholders and even slots for pens and handphones at the rear.
As would be already known by many
readers, the Avanza is built at the Perodua plant outside Rawang,
Selangor. In order to be able to build the Avanza to Toyota’s
exceptionally high quality standards, Perodua spent some RM29 million
upgrading its production facilities. Much of this went into the
paintshop which now puts a finish on cars that is claimed to be the best
in Malaysia. Though there are dedicated lines to make the Avanza (which
is expected to sell at around 2,000 units a month), many of the
processes also apply to the production of Perodua models so these too
will see higher quality levels.
The decision to sub-contract the
Avanza production to Perodua was due to insufficient capacity at UMW
Toyota Motor’s own plant in Shah Alam. Rather than import the model from
Indonesia and not be able to price it as attractively, it was decided
that getting Perodua to assemble it would make more sense at this time.
Furthermore, as the plant is owned by Daihatsu, which is a member of the
Toyota Group, it was even easier to team up.
"In Indonesia, we build the
Avanza at the Daihatsu plant and in Malaysia, we do it at the Perodua
plant. This sort of collaboration is quite effective in optimising our
production in Asean and I will be watching it closely," said Dato’ Akira
Okabe, Managing Officer of Toyota Motor Corporation.
BRIEF DRIVING IMPRESSIONS
The press preview of the Avanza
was a much-awaited event, given the rumours of it costing below
RM60,000. So it was hardly surprising that a large number of journalists
turned up for the event at the Perodua plant this morning. Due to the
limited number of vehicles available, only two laps per person were
allowed and these two were on the test track with two long straights and
From this brief drive, it was
apparent that the 1.3-litre engine is a robust unit and should offer
reasonable performance in normal driving conditions. In the higher rev
range, the engine noise does intrude so some extra insulation may be
welcome but at town speeds, it is fairly smooth and quiet.
Handling-wise, the Avanza is
impressive and very stable in tight turns, It also shows the same
stability in fast weaving and this quality could well be something the
chief engineer, whose background is in chassis engineering, could well
have given a lot of attention to. High marks also go to the ride comfort
although we will have to see how the Avanza takes bumps and potholes
(which were not present on the smooth test track).
The build quality of the vehicles
was very good and those in the showroom can be expected to also be of
the high quality typical of Toyota products. Though it’s a low-priced
vehicle, Toyota has not compromised in areas that are visible to
customers although for under RM60,000, you obviously cannot expect them
to provide the same standards as a Corolla.