A Tesla Cybertruck might still be science fiction but Toyota says there is already strong customer demand in regional Australia for hybrid pick-ups and four-wheel drives.
The Japanese car company embarked on a “hybrid cavalcade” tour of rural Australia to preach the benefits of electric-car tech and have potential buyers sample a range of vehicles, starting with Queensland and Victoria, with NSW and other states due to follow.
However, it was Toyota who was taught a lesson after discovering hybrid technology is already widely used in farm machinery.
“They’re far more advanced with the technology than we ever knew, they're already open to exploring alternative powertrains, and they were basically asking us ‘where’s the hybrid HiLux and where’s the hybrid LandCruiser,” said Toyota Australia vice president, sales and marketing, Sean Hanley.
“The hybrid cavalcade has been very successful for us, but it’s actually taught us a lot. By going out in the communities in regional Australia, hearing about the things they’re doing on their properties, they’re quite advanced.”
However, the communities encountered so far knew more about the technology than Toyota had expected.
“It’s certainly not in any way condescending, it’s an awareness campaign, it’s to talk about our future … and to reassure rural Australia we will have (vehicles) to suit their needs. It's to let regional Australia know we're not deserting them. It's our heartland,” said Mr Hanley.
He also added that pure electric cars are “not a topic of discussion” in regional Australia, however “hybrid is something they clearly understand we will have capability going forward”.
“It’s affordable, there’s no infrastructure (to charge the cars) required, they want a practical solution and a non-plug-in (hybrid) is a practical solution,” said Mr Hanley.
While Toyota sells plug-in hybrid versions of the Prius and RAV4 overseas, they are yet to be introduced in Australia.
“It’s not that we can’t bring plug-in hybrid to the market, we can at some point,” said Mr Hanley. “It’s whether or not the market will accept it. [Plug-in hybrids] have other benefits … but right now Australian consumers are clearly in my opinion voting for hybrid electric. That’s what we’re seeing.”
The latest figures show Toyota had its best month of hybrid sales in November, representing more than 20 per cent of its entire line-up for the first time – and more than half of certain models.
Last month, hybrids accounted for 47.5 per cent of Corolla sales, 77 per cent of Camry sales and 60 per cent of RAV4 orders were for hybrid variants.
Meanwhile, Toyota is yet to confirm exact timing and details, but hybrid versions of the HiLux ute and LandCruiser 4WD are expected to arrive in showrooms by 2025. The company plans to have hybrid and or electric power across its entire model range by the middle of next decade.