With Nissan preparing to enter the Australian market with a Pathfinder hybrid, Toyota has revealed that it is taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach before committing to importing a corresponding version of its new 50-series Kluger.
Speaking at the Kluger’s Australian launch in Queensland this week, Toyota Australia sales chief Tony Cramb admitted he will observe rival hybrids carefully before making a decision.
However, the temptation is there because the latest Kluger is one of the few seven-seater SUV contenders without a diesel option.
Rivals such as the Ford Territory, Hyundai Santa Fe, Holden Captiva 7 and Kia Sorento rely heavily on sales of the more frugal engine choice.
“There is a hybrid version of this model in the US, and we’ve chosen not to bring it to Australia for overseas demand reasons,” Mr Cramb told Wheels. “But we are going to watch and see what happens.
“Hybrid is one of our platforms that we are keen to introduce, but we need to see that it is right for that segment first and there has to be a demand for it.
“We’ll keep monitoring demand for it in the SUV segment to see if it is appropriate.”
Nissan announced five months ago that the Pathfinder would be offered with a hybrid flagship by the middle of this year.
It will feature a 184kW/330Nm supercharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine/battery-powered electric motor combo capable of averaging around 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres – a 25 percent improvement over the standard 3.5-litre petrol V6.
However, there is a price to pay for such parsimony, with the Pathfinder Supercharged Hybrid expected to carry a circa-$8000 price premium over the V6.
It is believed a similar premium would be necessary for Toyota to justify the cost of homologating the Kluger Hybrid for Australia.
Not coincidentally, both the Toyota and Nissan SUVs are now sourced from the US, where a hybrid is generally deemed more necessary than a diesel variant – although a recent sales spike for other manufacturers suggests that diesel is finally gaining traction over there.
Meanwhile, Toyota has rejected the naturally aspirated 138kW/250Nm 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol engine available in the US version of the Kluger, at least for the foreseeable future.
“It just isn’t worth it,” a Toyota spokesman said. “It wouldn’t be much cheaper, uses almost as much fuel and isn’t nearly as powerful.”