Aussie-honed Hilux also a beaut ute for Kiwis

Though plenty of engineers visited, New Zealand soil was never touched by the latest Hilux during its six year development – but the local distributor reckons international pre-launch testing, 80 percent conducted in Australia, leaves it perfectly suited to Kiwi conditions.

AUSTRALIAN assistance trumped Kiwi contribution when it came to developing the latest Hilux yet we weren’t completely shut out.

Previously held hope that some of the pre-release testing of the latest one-tonne utility, for 32 years New Zealand’s top-selling workhorse until trumped by the Ford Ranger in 2014, would have been staged in this country went unrealised, Toyota New Zealand has acknowledged.

However the brand says Kiwi fans whose confidence was dented during the last model’s nine years here – a period when embarrassing reliability and design issues almost certainly helped the Ford’s ascendance - can be assured Hilux is back to trademark toughness.

All our issues were considered heard, considered seriously and addressed by Toyota Japan.

“They have listened to our concerns. It’s a great truck. We have total confidence in it and they (customers) can too,” Spencer Morris, TNZ general manager of product, told Motoring Network.

This new Hilux’s development began in 2009 and was supposed to take about four years, but the programme was extended another 24 months to ensure all the bugs were ironed out.

Japanese engineers involved with the new model’s development were frequent visitors to New Zealand between 2009 and 2012, not only get an idea of what conditions Hilux had to withstand here – especially in rural use – but also to heard criticism, sometimes directly from disgruntled owners, about the catalogue of problems they’d struck with the previous generation, which became known as a lemon in some sectors.

“I don’t want to bag the old truck,” Morris said. “It served many people well and where there were faults or improvement opportunities (that came out of being more car like), these were fixed.

“The outgoing truck is still a good truck. The fact that it is still the second best selling light truck (and the best selling in 4x4 form) after 10 years without substantial redevelopment is testimony to this.”

However, he agrees, the recall for a spiral cable issue, wheel bearing and clutch problems and concern about potential for wiring for the antilock brakes becoming detached all raised conjecture about a model that was a big technology leap of its own, well-regarded predecessor had gone too far.

The biggest public impact, though, came when owners complained of engine failures, ultimately not a design fault but to do with fuel quality.

This linked back to the engine’s update to direct injection, which though bringing many positives also highlighted that this kind of setup has an utter intolerance for fuel contaminated with foreign bodies and water.

With Hilux, field users who refuelled from old, usually poorly maintained fuel tanks – notably on rural properties – soon struck problems and Toyota copped heat.

Morris agrees Hilux went through a tough reputational patch but he does not accept this has led to significant abdication to other product, notably Ranger, though the Ford’s ascendance certainly seemed to pick up pace during the blackest times for Toyota.

Nor does he believe this new Hilux will have to make up ground with former fans who now shop elsewhere. He believes the Hilux support base is still very strong. However, he says Toyota Japan and TNZ are now more sensitive to the need to ensure the latest, gen eight vehicle enters the market in perfect condition.

“That’s why it was late (in its development). It was late because we wanted to get it right.”

Morris said he wanted to be 100 percent upfront about the old model, to the point where some colleagues had wondered if he was saying too much.

“But our credibility is on the line here, if we tried to say there had been no problems with the old truck then …

“The old truck is good now. But along the way we learned some lessons.“

Japan’s reaction to the NZ market issues led impression several that it intended to include this country in the overseas’ test programme in which mules, prototypes and production-standard examples were taken to select countries for workout to ensure survivability in their specific conditions.

It was known that Toyota Japan had particular interest in the last Hilux’s ability to cope with the high country area of the South Island.

Toyota knows that terrain from bringing in vehicles well ahead of their public release for cold weather-related testing at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, a snow and ice driving facility between Queenstown and Wanaka.

However, previous generations of Hilux never underwent development testing in this country and nothing changed this time.

Though “they came here, looked at our conditions and heard what we had to say” the Japanese always left the truck at home.

“They sent a lot of engineers, on more than one occasion. Between 2009 and 2012, we have engineers out here. But we didn’t test in New Zealand.”

Instead, when the vehicle did travel, it predominantly landed in Australia. No less than 80 percent of the secret programme ran on our neighbour’s landscape.

Hilux covered 650,000km in pre-production and prototype vehicles testing Down Under and Australian engineers also developed a wide range of accessories including a choice of three airbag-compatible roo-bars.

When not out in the field, Toyota’s people were based at the Australian Automotive Research Centre in Anglesea, Victoria. This high-security facility near Melbourne became known within company circles as “Minami Fuji” meaning south of Mount Fuji.

Morris says there was still a TNZ involvement: “They (the Japanese) came here and we sent people across to Australia and they were involved.”

However, the first NZ saw of the final outcome was when a vehicle designated as a ‘goshi’ – a in-house parlance for a vehicle that is pre-production, but very close to showroom standard – arrived in May so that it could be shown off in conjunction with Hilux’s global unveil, conducted out of Thailand. 

Australia also beat this country to launching the new line, having had it since September, and has made much of the Aussie-fication process, as has Hilux executive chief engineer Hiroki Nakajima.

He told Australian media this eighth-generation Hilux had been significantly affected by its time in Australia. While Australasian-specific features include tyre choice, suspension set-up, underbody protection and stability control programming, many features for other markets resulted from its time Down Under.

The Toyota engineer said Australia’s varying and often poor road surfaces played a key part in the chassis tuning, and the car was honed to cope with our neighbour’s diverse terrain, with particular attention on unsealed surfaces.

He also said Hilux owner feedback had been influential in the creation of the new version. As result of criticism, the new rig had thicker panels and the ladder frame chassis had been beefed up for a 20 percent increase in bending and torsional rigidity.

According to Toyota, the focus on toughness ensures the new model is better off-road as well as being a more pleasant driving experience on-road thanks to a greater concentration on build strength and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.

The work, plus inclusion of extra equipment and comfort features, has affected the kerb weight. On average, this new model is 150kg heavier than its predecessor, by Toyota argues the sacrifice is justified in such a vehicle and says customers will not feel the extra mass thanks to a more efficient and powerful range of engines.
Meantime, Morris is confident an Aussie-developed Hilux is well suited to NZ too.

“It’s a global vehicle. I’m very happy with what we have got. I think it will be very good for local conditions. I think it lives up to the Hilux brand.”