Collaborations between manufacturers are commonplace in the light commercial vehicle industry nowadays and by getting on board PSA’s medium van platform beside the Citroen Dispatch and Peugeot Expert, Toyota looks to have made the right choice for its Proace.

The current-generation vans launched in 2016 and were immediately recognised as being a superior proposition to their predecessors. What Van? certainly thought so – in 2017 we crowned the models our joint LCVs of the Year and in 2018 they once more finished on top in the medium van category.

Gareth Matthews, Toyota’s light commercial vehicle boss, says that, backed up by the Proace’s five-year warranty, the awards have “established the van as a credible player with a credible publication”.

Badge of honour

Since winning the top prize in 2017, Toyota has continued to attach a What Van? Awards winner’s badge to the back of its Proace vans, and at least one of the brand’s dealerships, Jemca in Sidcup, Kent, has taken matters further by displaying a Proace on its forecourt adorned with a large What Van? Awards logo on its side door.

Matthews explains this is not dictated by head office but that the brand makes its marketing assets available to its network so that dealers can choose which aspects they wish to use.
“The dealer has decided to use it as its main message,” he says. “It’s a further endorsement for another year.”

He claims Toyota has received outstanding feedback for the Proace for its fuel economy, driveability and customers’ experiences at dealerships.

Toyota has about 130 retail outlets in the UK, all of which are authorised to sell LCVs, and within this total are 63 Business Centres geared towards fleet customers.

Matthews says the manufacturer examined the network to determine where the volume lies for LCVs and the dealership capability to sell and service. Following this process it appointed 25 centres as LCV specialists. These sites must display the full range of LCVs as well as deploy a member of staff as a dedicated van specialist, with a marketing budget ring-fenced for commercial vehicles. They must also instigate a procedure to deal with LCV aftersales including the provision of flexible servicing options.

Matthews says these centres sell more light commercials more profitably than the rest of the network largely because they are able to upsell with options and conversions.

Having showcased its conversions range at the 2017 Commercial Vehicle Show, Toyota launched its Trade Plus conversion programme later in the year. Factory-produced vehicles include tipper and dropsides based on the Hilux pick-up truck and a Proace refrigerator van, as well as models kitted out with racking supplied by Bristor.

Getting established in the conversion sector, not to mention the van market generally, can be a painstaking process with so many recognised players already in the field, but Matthews says Toyota has been raising awareness of its range at a regional level through attending local county shows.

The manufacturer now has 10 authorised converters on board with a further three in the pipeline, according to Matthews.

In addition the brand launched a Proace-based camper van at the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show in February 2018 and the model returned to the NEC for the Commercial Vehicle Show in April. Other highlights included an Arctic Trucks-adapted Hilux and the UK debut of the Land Cruiser Commercial.


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Toyota launched the Trade Plus conversion scheme in 2017

Matthews says Toyota took the decision to launch a commercial version of the rugged 4×4 SUV, with the back seats removed to create an extended load floor, to capitalise on Land Rover’s withdrawal of its Defender from the market. Although the commercial is only offered in the Land Cruiser’s base trim level, with, sensibly, steel wheels instead of alloys, Matthews points out it still gets features such as air-conditioning and DAB radio.

On sale in July, it will be available in long- and short-wheelbase modes with a steel bulkhead to protect the cab from the load bay, which will get a flat, non-slip floor covering.
Having pioneered the introduction of hybrid technology to the passenger car sector it is perhaps surprising Toyota does not yet offer any alternatively-fuelled LCVs.

“We don’t have anything confirmed but we are looking for opportunities,” says Matthews, whether this might be an extension of the joint venture with PSA or the introduction of a Toyota-produced hybrid.

He does not subscribe to the view, held by some in the industry, that self-charging hybrid vehicles have had their day, arguing that they now have a better range and are able to run for longer on battery power.

When it comes to plug-in hybrids he reasons, logically, that unless you can plug it in you don’t get the benefit, and questions whether this would often be possible for a tradesperson calling at people’s houses during a working day.

He believes self-charging is a more realistic proposition and says if the technology could translate into light commercials it would create an “exceptional offer” for customers.

Matthews admits it is “frustrating” that Toyota has not yet introduced a hybrid LCV.
“We have more hybrid cars than any other [manufacturer]. I’d like to get one on board tomorrow,” he says.

In 10 years’ time Matthews feels there will be no “one size fits all” in terms of fuel use and predicts that many operators will still be running diesel LCVs as well as hybrids and electric vehicles.

Returning to the Proace, Matthews says it always takes time to get larger fleets engaged in a new player due to the number of established models in the market, but points to the recent supply of 70 vans to soft drinks company Britvic as a sign of progress.

“We focus on this size rather than huge volume fleets,” he says.

Tentative market

Taking a wider view of the market, Matthews feels it is tentative in the current economic and political climate, having reached a high point in 2016. Like most of the leading LCV brands, with the exception of Ford and Peugeot, Toyota’s volumes are behind where they were last year – down 15% to 2,446 units over the first quarter, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

But Matthews reckons that while operators may be delaying purchasing decisions he is not too pessimistic about the long-term impact of Brexit.

He reasons that the European Union’s stance towards the UK will soften as it is in all European nations’ interest to maintain constructive trading relationships.

“Business doesn’t want to shoot itself in the foot,” he concludes.

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Gareth Matthews, Toyota’s light commercial vehicle boss