Private buyer push for new crossover

Will genuine customer desire, rather than need for discounting, fuel the cheeky C-HR compact’s sale? Toyota New Zealand seems to be expressing confidence.


INCENTIVES that do much to keep Toyota fleet sweet might not stick to the courageously-styled C-HR, tenor of comment from the brand suggests.

Up to 700 potential customers have expressed interest in the just-launched 1.2-litre five-door four-seater that arrives in common spec front and four-wheel-drive formats for $37,990 and $39,990 and TNZ is bullish about achieving 850 sales for the remainder of this year, rising to 1000 units in 2018.

Realisation of those targets would provide the car with a strong presence in the increasingly buoyant compact crossover sector, but potentially still well behind the three big guns of 2016 – the Mazda CX3 (1478 registrations last year), Mitsubishi ASX (1533) and Suzuki Vitara (1481).

Also-ran status will seem unusual for Toyota, which generally aspires to sector domination – and achieves it with three C-HR-sized cars, the Corolla, Yaris and RAV4.

However, those models’ dominance has been heavily fuelled by their favouritism as fleet fodder – it is conjected up to 80 percent begin life as fleet or rental cars.

However, it seems C-HR might escape what some have called an image-battering fate.

The smart-looking city comfortable crossover is set to be pushed into a forum that the country’s largest new car seller has progressively steered clear of for many years – the private buyer zone where deals are done on desire rather the size of the discount.

Young, urban life-stylers have been mentioned as particular targets.

It’s not a wholly new strategy: TNZ has done much the same with its 86, the sports coupe co-designed with Subaru that, though a niche sales performer, has huge street cred.

TNZ has made no secret that it expects C-HR to win favour largely on the strength of its extrovert character.

It is talking up the car’s shape, premium finish and first use of a new-generation 85kW/185Nm 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine whose stout-hearted technology seems set to have a big future within Toyota-dom.

Built atop Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform that underpins the latest Prius and will form the basis of the next-gen Corolla, it is the first Toyota to express a bold new styling language - a diamond architectural theme with faceted gemstone-like shapes, fluid surfaces and elegantly integrated detailing. The coupe-like shape is further enhanced by disguised rear door handles integrated within the C pillar and the sweeping roofline that projects into a large, aerodynamic spoiler.

Though acknowledging a private buyer push, the Palmerston North distributor has also signalled the simple reason that supply is so limited also make a push for big volume realisation pointless.

Production constraints are also why it chose to limit to just one trim specification and petrol-constantly variable transmission drivetrain choice – though others exist overseas.

There is a limited supply from the factory with worldwide demand high, the brand says.

“Every market in the world has strong customer demand for this car,” says TNZ general manager of sales Steve Prangnell.

Toyota’s stranglehold on fleet business here is not complete – it is presently missing out on the increasingly important electric vehicle sector action through lack of a recognised candidate - but it is dominant enough to cause some other distributors to grumble about how that status is achieved.

Many often cite that TNZ seals its deals with generous terms – buy back deals and heavy discounting being commonly raised.

Such talk riles the industry leader and it was typically testy when asked if the C-HR will be subject to any such practices.

“I’m not interested in responding to any inaccurate and frankly sour grapes taunts from competitors about our sales mix,” said general manager of product Spencer Morris.

He echoed Prangnell’s thoughts in commenting: “We think we will find more retail customers than we have stock.”

TNZ is not daunted by having such a strongly style car in its mix, Morris says. If anything, it has welcomed having such a distinctive car and believes this aspect will help Toyota regain interest from genuine car enthusiasts.

Morris said the styling was one aspect of meeting a goal expressed by Toyota Motor Company president Akio Toyoda to ‘make cars that people want to own at first glance … and keep driving once they behind the wheel.’

“I think every aspect of the C-HR meets that challenge head on from the styling through to the ride and handling and on to the comprehensive list of specifications.”

Morris recently visited Toyota City in Japan and was likely to have seen more future product, perhaps including the next-generation Corolla.

However, he has demurred from commenting about whether the C-HR’s design path was going to be a template for any other Toyota cars.

He also said he had no knowledge of a rumoured GT version of the C-HR (which, as part of its pre-release development, was raced on Toyota’s – and Toyoda’s – favourite circuit, Germany’s Nurburgring) but added: “We might consider it if offered one.”