For Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation (TMPC) or Toyota, the accolades just keep on coming.

Recently Toyota capped off a third consecutive summit at the top of the automotive sales arena by launching the newest member of its light commercial vehicle (LCV) family, the fourth generation Toyota HiAce Commuter. This is the company's first salvo in the Year of the Rooster, providing a glimpse of things to come since it bagged the number one spot in passenger car/commercial vehicle/overall sales (known as the triple crown) in 2004.

This Php 1.048 million, 15-seater van is the second LCV in two months launched by Toyota, the other LCV being the new Toyota Hilux launched in December 2004. "Although we came out on top in 2004's CV sales, we will not rest on our past success. One of our short-term goals this year is to strengthen our presence in other segments, particularly the CV segment in the pickup and van categories, hence the launch of the Hilux last month and the HiAce this month," said Ariel de Jesus, TMPC public affairs officer.

Bigger, better interior

In keeping with Toyota's current thrust of improving its LCV lineup, Toyota made sure that each and every one of the 15 HiAce Commuter's occupants will definitely enjoy the Toyota passenger van experience. Its interior offers long, wide interior space with four rows of passenger seats and with width that allows passengers to sit in comfort with ample leg space. Also, the vast HiAce's height and width blends seamlessly with its right-hand sliding door, which is 50 mm wider and 60 mm taller than the previous HiAce. This means that two passengers side by side can simultaneously get in and out of the van with ease.

Air outlets located on the ceiling above the rear passenger seats provide more than ample air-conditioning, while the river and shotgun occupant enjoys bi-level a/c and heating. And for those bored with the irritating sounds of Metro Manila traffic, an in-dash, two-DIN, MP3/compact disc head unit provides non-stop audio entertainment.

Toyota was thoughtful to include hauling cargo as a priority, so it made the HiAce's left and right hand rearmost seats fold up sideways to accommodate big luggage such as golf bags and travel suitcases.

Toyota was thoughtful to include hauling cargo as a priority, so it made the HiAce's left and right hand rearmost seats fold up sideways to accommodate big luggage such as golf bags and travel suitcases.

But does that mean that the front passengers get nothing? Fortunately, the driver can also enjoy the HiAce experience. The five-speed stick shift is located on the instrument panel for a short stroke, resulting in swift gear changes, smooth driving uphill and decompression braking when driving downhill.

The fuel lid and hood opener lids are color-coded to prevent mishandling, especially in emergencies. A dual cupholder tray hidden in the center of dashboard keeps drinks from tumbling and spilling, while an all-new three-gauge analog cluster provides the driver hints about the current state of the vehicle.

On the shotgun side, one will find out that there are several places in front of him/her where one can store bric-a-brac. Situated on the front passenger side are upper and lower glove boxes and an underdash tray. And if that's not enough a small storage space beside the a/c controls can be used for storing pocket-sized items such as loose change and paper money.

All-new exterior design

The outside of the HiAce features an all-new design, with a front end that looks like the previous HiAce's nose was welded unto the van and lopped off in half. Its nose line now runs from the bulging center to both sides for an asymmetrical look, while the sliding door is of the same color as the body for what Toyota calls a "simple" look. Toyota even added two more side-sliding windows at the rearmost end of the van so that even the rearmost occupants can enjoy traveling au naturel. Located underneath the front windshield is a front panel that stores brake fluid, radiator coolant, windshield washer fluid and other vehicular fluid.

D4-D turbocharged engine, safety stuff

The HiAce comes with a 2.5-liter turbocharged diesel engine with Toyota's D4-D common rail fuel supply system, making sure that the proper air-fuel mixture reaches each cylinder at all engine ranges. Its engine pushes out 260 NM of torque and 102 PS of power, making the 2KD-FTV D4-D engine the most powerful in its class, increasing its capacity to transport heavier loads.

Safety is a high priority for the HiAce and it can be seen in a number of areas. A mechanical lock attached to the sliding door can make the latter stay open, even when the van is parked on a downgrade. The said lock won't close until someone operates the door handle, preventing people's hands or fingers from getting wedged between the HiAce's sliding door and the shotgun side b-pillar.

In case of a crash, strengthened frame members and additional crossmembers to the front portion of the HiAce's frame results in efficient absorption and dispersion of impact forces. Beams inside the front doors effectively deal with odd head-on impact angles.

Double serving of good news

Along with the launch of the Hi-Ace and the company's capture of a three-peat triple crown, Toyota carried a bunch of good news to the press. "While the total market as weaker compared to 2003, Toyota remained dominant with a growth rate of five percent in 2004. We increased our overall market share significantly, from 30.1 percent in 2003 to 33.2 percent last year, despite not having any new models. We sold over 9,000 Revo units despite its run-out mode in the latter part of the year and continued to rule the Asian utility vehicle (AUV) segment," said Nobuharu Tabata, TMPC president.

Toyota also was delighted to report that since the introduction of the all-new Hilux, the pickup has captured the number one position in its first month with 253 units sold for a 20.9 percent pickup market share. Furthermore, the company also was ranked highest in Philippine customer satisfaction (when it came to dealer services), according to the JD Power Asia-Pacific 2004 Philippines Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Study. Previously in 2002 Toyota was ranked by the said survey as the Philippines' fifth best company when it came to dealer service customer satisfaction. In 2003 TMPC came in as the second-highest rated company when it came to the aforementioned JD Power CSI survey.