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Toyota casts net for Yaris sedan replacement

A chance: The Indian-made Toyota Etios sedan might provide the basis for a Yaris sedan replacement in Australia.

Asian-made light car looms as likely successor to Yaris sedan for Toyota Oz

7 Sep 2011

TOYOTA Australia is looking outside Japan for a replacement for its Yaris sedan, which is about to hit a dead end with the arrival of the hatch-only next generation from about November.

A still-secret ‘eco car’ rumoured to be in development for Thai production or a version of the the Etios sedan made currently in India and soon for Brazil could be the vehicle it has in mind to fill the gap left by the four-door Yaris that has been discontinued in Toyota’s Japanese plant that supplies Australia.

Toyota Australia is not prepared to walk away from the light sedan market, which it says makes up a small but important chunk of its light car sales that are split between first-car buyers and over 50s downsizers.

The new Yaris – called Vitz in Japan – will be made only in three- and five-door hatchback variants in three plants around the world, in Japan, China and France.

It is set to be launched about October-November in Australia, almost a year after it entered showrooms in Japan and several weeks later than planned for Australia, thanks to delays caused by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March.

In the United States, Toyota has announced that it will continue running the old sedan in parallel with the new Yaris hatch, purely for fleet buyers.

However, Toyota Australia has ruled out that strategy, saying it has other options for a replacement.

8 center imageLeft: New Toyota Yaris.

The company’s senior executive director sales and marketing David Buttner told GoAuto that Toyota Australia was awaiting further advice on a Yaris sedan replacement.

“There is product under development, but we haven’t got a firm plan yet for a replacement,” he said.

“We are hopeful, because it is a very important part of that segment, and there are other options available around the world.

“So we will certainly have a replacement at some point in time in the future.”

Mr Buttner said the car would not necessarily come from Japan, like the current Yaris sedan that is sold in two 1.5-litre variants, YRS and YRX.

“There are other places around the world where we are building cars very competitively now,” he said. “There could be an opportunity to get it from another country.”

Mr Buttner has made no secret of his desire to source light and small cars from low-cost countries such as Thailand to compete with the likes of the Indian-built Hyundai i20 and Suzuki Alto, Thai-made Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz and City and Nissan Micra, and Korean-built Kia Rio.

Toyota Thailand has successfully produced Toyota’s industry leading HiLux for Australia and elsewhere for some years, as well as making passenger cars for domestic and Asian markets.

Mr Buttner ruled out Toyota’s existing Yaris plants in France and China as a source for the new light sedan.

The 1.5-litre four-door Toyota Etios has proved a hit in India where a factory expansion is planned to grow production to cope with demand for the sedan and a new 1.2-litre hatchback version called Etios Liva.

The Etios – described at launch last year by a senior Toyota executive as the “21st century Corolla” – is also about to get a 1.4-litre diesel engine, based on a Corolla engine of the same size.

Just 35mm shorter than the current Yaris, the Etios was designed specifically for emerging markets, and would need to be re-engineered for Australia.

Toyota Motor Corporation recently announced that the Etios will also go into production at a new factory in Brazil from 2012.

A more likely source for Australia might be Thailand, where a light car is said to be under development for South East Asia.

Some have suggested this car might be a development of the Etios, although others say it is an all-new car.

Mr Buttner is not saying, although he is adamant that his company will have the gap covered by suitable product, although not in the short term.

Mazda has dropped the sedan version of its hot-selling Mazda2 after shifting production back from Thailand to Japan because it was having trouble getting supply out of the overworked Thai plant. The sedan is not made in the Hiroshima plant.

A new Micra-based sedan – to be called Sunny in some markets – is set to be launched in Australia in the first half of 2012, with Thailand the most likely source.

This car is said to be bigger in most dimensions than the Micra, and will sit above the Micra hatchback in the range, helping to cover the gap left by the Tiida when it departs in a year or two, to be replaced by the bigger Pulsar.

So far this year, Toyota Yaris sales are down 26.3 per cent in Australia, at least partly because of production shortages caused by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Sales bounced back somewhat in August, when Toyota moved 1599 cars, up 7.5 per cent on the same month last year.

In 2010, the Yaris was ranked number two behind the Hyundai Getz, but this year it has slipped to third behind the Mazda2 and now-discontinued Hyundai Getz.

The light car segment has been growing steadily in recent years, but this year it is down 2.7 per cent year to date.

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