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Toyota adapts Signature Range factory for Prius Plug-ins
By Liz Dobson • 31/08/2016
PRIUS PLUG-IN HYBRIDS ARE THE FOCUS OF A NEW CAMPAIGN FOR THE POPULAR RANGE
Toyota New Zealand’s Signature Class range became a significant facet for the company when new vehicle production ceased in this country in the late 1990s.
Nearly 20 years later, Toyota is launching a new campaign for Signature Class, with not only an insight into the business but a new focus on electric vehicles.
Since the former Toyota production factory in Thames was converted into a refurbishment plant more than 49,000 vehicles have gone through the Signature Class programme.
It is now such a major sales factor for the company, that if it was standalone brand it would sit between Hyundai and Nissan for vehicle sales.
Although the original concept behind the Signature Class and the Thames plant was refurbishing used Japanese imports, 64 per cent of vehicles through the plant now are New Zealand new vehicles, the majority former rentals.
Among the 36 per cent of used Japanese imports going through the Thames factory are Prius plug-in hybrids. Toyota NZ originally imported up to 40 Prius plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) as a trial for the New Zealand market, as the company answers customer demand, said Toyota NZ’s general manager, Steve Prangnell.
But the feedback has been so positive the company expects to sell 100 Prius PHEVs by the end of this year — the majority of customers businesses and councils.
The third-generation Prius PHEVs were sourced from agents and dealerships in Japan and sent to Toyota NZ’s Thames plant where the products were specced for the New Zealand market.
They are sold under the Signature Class brand with a five-year warranty including the battery, locally fitted audio with reversing camera, the dash converted from Japanese to English, with a retail price of around $35,000-$40,000.
Toyota Prius PHEV out of the Thames Signature range plant
The imports were all up to three years old, with less than 25,000km on the clock.
The Prius PHEV combines a 1.8-litre petrol engine with a 60kW electric motor.
Toyota will also be installing six charging stations in dealerships across New Zealand, including Auckland City, Manukau, Manawatu, Wellington and Christchurch. In the Thames plant, PHEV technicians will be hired to assist with the refits, joining the 72 staff in the refurbish programme.
There are 14 stages in the Thames plant, including an initial service, a full assessment with AA compliance inspections for used Japanese imports, panelbeating, painting, re-assembly and final inspections.
It takes about 20 hours for each vehicle to get through the stages, but a Signature Class will remain at the Thames plant for up to 14 days. The plant’s current capacity is 22 vehicles each day.
For Toyota NZ, the Signature Class range offers “high refurbishment, a warranty and a peace of mind” says the company’s used vehicle general manager, Andrew Davis.
“We try to add value to the vehicle as close to a new price,” he said.
Toyota NZ hosted motoring writers at the Thames plant last week, with a return drive route to Auckland.
Driven tested three Signature Class vehicles, a 2010 seven-seater Alphard, a 2013 Corolla Fielder hybrid wagon and the highlight, a seven-seater 2009 Vanguard SUV.