Matthews says Toyota took the decision to launch a commercial version of the rugged 4x4 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.
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.