Is Toyota about to barnstorm the world?

Having already claimed a Number 2 status for a while last year in the North American market, Toyota are deluging the buyers with models to suit all needs and budgets.

By 2005, Toyota and Lexus will launch 11 new or redesigned products into the North American market as part of a push to get Toyota’s US presence past 2 million units in 2005, if not reached this year. Last year Toyota sold an estimated 1.85 million units in America in 2003.

Revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in January this year, many of the vehicles for 2005 are redesigns of existing vehicles. However, Toyota is looking closely at its competitors and will be going head to head in all categories, for example taking on the Honda Civic Si’s long dominance of the sport compact market with the 180 horsepower Corolla XRS. Hybrid versions of the Lexus RX 330 are also part of the planned new models.

Aggressive marketing by Toyota makes it Thailand number 1

Toyota Thailand have more models than any other car company in this region and with something for everybody, deserve their position at the top of the tree, now commanding one third of the market. The sales figures for 2003 are around the 180,000 mark, finally topping the previous 160,000 units set in 1996 before the financial crash of 1997. (May we never forget it and all those who sank with her!)

Toyota have also confirmed that they have an aggressive campaign for Lexus, and Ryoichi Sasaki, Toyota Motor Thailand’s president has said that Lexus aims to be the leader in the luxury car stakes by 2010 - that’s six years for the mathematically challenged, and not eons in car industry terms. The sales target in Thailand for 2003 was 200 units and they expect to more than double that in 2004. That’s a lot of luxury when your ‘cheapie’ is the Lexus RX 300 SUV going out the door at a bargain basement 3.47 million baht, and your standard bearer is the LS 430 sedan at 7.645 million. But never, never, underestimate Toyota!

Peugeot 307

A few more Peugeots are starting to find there way onto Thailand’s crowded bitumen, and the 307 is an interesting one. Priced at around 1.9 million baht, just under its smaller brother the 206, it has started to attract its own band of followers, with the styling being at least one reason for this. It was the European Car of the Year and our Down-under correspondent called it stylish, gutsy and highly appealing. Here are the Words from Weinthal.

“The Peugeot 307 is sold here with in Australia a choice of two body styles and three engines. It does not take long to appreciate what the 55 journalist judges of the Car of the Year found so appealing about this successor to the 306 - the most successful model ever from Peugeot.

“The 307 is a distinctively styled car which, through clever design, offers probably the largest cabin and luggage space in the medium smaller class. There is a host of clever engineering and genuine safety features which put the 307 right at the top of its class.

“It is one of the best equipped cars on our market almost regardless of price. We drove a 2 litre, four cylinder 100 kW five door (this is the XS model we get here in Thailand). There’s also an 80 kW 1600 and a very advanced 66kW 2 litre turbo diesel engine available for just under AUD 30,000 - an extraordinarily low price for what it offers with great fuel economy and strong torque throughout the rev range.

“Safety is a big feature of all 307s. First there’s accurate power-assisted rack and pinion steering, fine road holding and anti-lock four wheel disc braking with brake force distribution between the front and rear. The windscreen wipers sweep from the centre outwards to give truly remarkable coverage. All of these help you avoid an accident in the first place. In the event of a mishap there are six airbags for protection in front and side impacts, five anti-whiplash head restraints, advanced body crumple and side intrusion design and more.

“On top of this it’s the standard equipment list which gives the 307 a further edge over most of its peers regardless of their nationality. All 307s have dial-a-temperature air-con, height adjustable passenger’s front seat, adjustable centre front arm rests, fast response up and down power windows in all doors, remote central locking, anti-theft immobiliser, six speaker radio and CD, on board computer and a boot net to secure luggage. In fact the standard equipment goes on and on - cup holders and additional power points, truly useable glove box and door bins which can hold a 2 litre bottle, split fold rear seats to give a cavernous luggage carrying capacity, on board diagnostics and warnings and so on.

“Added to this we have a Peugeot with the expected virtues of super supple ride with next to no road noise. The 307 is a stylish, gutsy, and ultimately highly appealing machine.”

(Thank you John, but here the distributors have to overcome the not so highly appealing purchase price! Dr. Iain.)

Lexus SC 430

With Toyota Thailand reported as aggressively marketing Lexus, I wonder whether they will ever bring such exotics as the SC 430 into this country. With the LS 430 sedan over seven and a half million baht, lordy knows what this little gem might have on its price ticket, but I’d hazard a guess at around 10 mill!

Our Down-under correspondent, John Weinthal has sampled one, calling it a ‘supertoy’, writing that “This Lexus combines the highest levels of engineering excellence and safety with strikingly independent styling, exquisite detailing, subtle luxurious interior design and a build quality matched by few if any other cars. Lexus calls it the outcome of a pursuit for perfection - few will argue.”

However, he continued with, “As a car it is surely a dead loss in any conventional sense. For all practical considerations this is a two-seater with four head restraints. That boot-looking projection behind the cabin is simply the storage area for the folding aluminium roof. Beyond that, it just accommodated a briefcase and a couple of cameras in a soft bag. Regardless of these observations, please accept that the SC430 is just about as good as it gets, provided you don’t demand anything approaching practicality from your automotive experience.”

I wonder if we’ll ever get one here?

The Mustang is back! A real one!

The 2005 Ford Mustang was on show in Detroit a few days ago, and immediately brought back memories of the Shelby Mustang 500 GT. It is back to the original formula for FoMoCo and they are offering a gutsy 300 BHP V 8 in the engine line-up, or a much more sedate V6 200 BHP unit. Remember that most original 60’s and 70’s Mustangs were sold with the cooking model in line six, rather than the fire-breathing V8 that gave the model its clout and panache.

Has VW gone mad?

Also on show in Detroit was the Volkswagen Concept T. This thing looks like a cross between a home made beach buggy and a praying mantis. Now VeeDub don’t do anything just for the hell of it, so there is a production model somewhere. The thing has a V6 in it pushing out 240 BHP and has a top speed of 230 kph and accelerates 0-100 clicks in under seven seconds. VW say, “With the concept T, Volkswagen is unifying the worlds of the SUV and the sports car.” That may be so, but it sure is ugly.

The hybrid Benz gets closer

The Mercedes Vision Grand Sports Tourer concept was on show in Detroit too. The engine is an electric/diesel hybrid that develops over 300 BHP and gives performance figures of 0-100 clicks in under seven seconds and returns a fuel economy of 30 mpg in the old money. DaimlerChrysler says, “By building this vehicle, we are underlining our reputation as a trendsetter and will establish our presence in a young and interesting market segment starting at the beginning of 2005. This concept definitely has the potential for a new Mercedes model family.” Translation of that auto-speak is, expect this vehicle next year.

BMW produces an elegant convertible

The BMW 6 Series Convertible (645Ci) made a big impression at the Detroit show, and I am even getting used to the Chris Bangle rear end, as first seen on the 7 series a couple of years ago. Not only a looker, this is a performance vehicle that does not care about conservation of reputedly dwindling oil resources (and I’m with BMW). Over 300 neddies up front and 0-100 in a smidgin over six seconds and gives 15 mpg around town, and I love it. Top speed over 240 kays as well.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote about a very rich and titled Englishman, who headed a very large motor corporation wanted to be a doctor. He did not have enough money to go to university as a young man, so started a bicycle repair business, and then went on to building cars to fund his way through medical school. He never got there, but gave huge amounts of money to medical research after he became successful in the auto business. I asked who was he? It was William Morris, who became Lord Nuffield.

So to this week, and a Scottish related question, so put on your kilts and think about this - two manufacturers used tartan fabric on the exterior of their car bodies. What were they? Clue - one was in 1922 and the other in 1930.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania

Good luck!