Published on August 8th, 2018 | by Subhash Nair


The 4 Different ‘Grades’ of Toyota

In case you need reminding, Toyota is one of the largest automaker in the world. It’s probably number 1 or 2 at any given time, so let’s just call them one of the largest to be safe.

And unlike their main rival, the VW Group, Toyota don’t have quite so many brands and divisions to play around with. So, the ‘TOYOTA’ brand itself must play different roles. Toyota don’t really make a secret of it. In fact, I doubt it’s even something they consciously talk about internally.

It’s something my Autophiles friends and I have discovered by analysing the wide range of Toyotas there seem to be.

The Developing Market Toyota

Some markets, like Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand are HUGE (something like half a billion people in just this region alone). These markets tend to have different requirements and lower purchasing power. So, the result is cars like the ‘Kijang’, or what we got as the ‘Unser’ years ago. They tend to have roots either in commercial vehicles or in older generation technology. This MAY make them a little more unsafe (my family Unser somersaulted over a puddle years ago) but cheaper to maintain (that same Unser looked totalled but was easily fixed). Toyota today has made these vehicles a lot safer, but how much of that is due to regulations is unclear. The point is they all come with airbags, ABS, EBD, BA, and stability control nowadays without costing much more than they used to.

But while these kinds of Toyotas are the ones that sell the best in the region, they also bring down the brand perception in countries like Malaysia. Why would a successful middle-class man want to be seen driving the same brand of car as his employees?

The Middle Ground Toyota

Arguably, these are the Toyotas that UMW’s focus should be completely on. Cars like the Sienta and the C-HR.

They’re both well made, fully-featured and if you go to Singapore, you’ll likely see them in droves.

We like these Toyotas. They’re the best representation of the brand.

The JDM Toyotas

You know those roadside fields of Alphards and Mark X Toyotas that you see? That’s where you find these. Cars that are difficult to officially sell brand new at full price. The paralel importers take advantage of the situation by importing used Toyotas from Japan.

They are Toyotas, so they’re easy to maintain. Sure parts might need to be imported, but it’s all doable for a reasonable price. The biggest hurdles for owners:

1) knowing what condition and true mileage the cars really are in. These are imported en masse, and reconditioned to look flawless. Who knows what condition they were in before? Was it used as an airport taxi before? Was the previous driver a smoker? It’s a gamble.

2) While mechanical parts are easy enough to get, body panels, interior parts may not be. JDM cars are built for JDM weather. Sitting yours under the Malaysian sun for years may be a little problematic without good tint.

3) Head unit and instrument cluster will be mostly in Japanese. Not a big deal for some, a deal breaker for others. Some of it can be solved for a price.

The JDM Specials

For a very long time, Lexus was not available in Japan. In that time, successful Japanese businessmen and managers and royalty looked to these.

Cars like the Mark X, Alphard and Vellfire sit in between this category and regular old JDM Toyotas. But the cars that really fit in here are the Crown, the Century, the Soarer. V6, V8, V12 engines. NVH that would embarass some Beemers and Benzes.

That’s right. If you think the best luxury cars come from Europe, step into a 3.5-litre Hybrid Toyota Crown and experience the next level.

Completely isolated and creamy. And the best part is that unlike continental premium cars, these are built to last for decades. Many still roam New Zealand’s roads.

Why don’t they bring these to Malaysia then? Well, it’s complicated isn’t it. They’ve already got Lexus for us. The cars are built for Japanese market expectations, so some designs won’t seem like they make sense outside of Japan. Plus, they’d never be able to beat the Germans on price.

Plus the aversion to turbocharging means most of these have high capacity engines (3.5L and up), meaning road tax would be back-breaking. And after seeing the other lower tiers of Toyota, spending hundreds of thousands on a Toyota seems a little counter intuitive.

So, do you think this is an accurate representation of Toyota’s portfolio? Sure, there are plenty of vehicles that blend the lines a little bit, but by and large this seems to be the way the brand’s products can be perceived.

About the Author

Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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