Corolla Hatch

Corolla Hatch

“Why Toyota’s Corolla WAS the standard bearer for a quiet private motoring revolution in New Zealand. And why it probably won’t be in the (medium term) future. Or how reliable but dull isn’t enough anymore.”

Toyota’s Corolla is #1 for 2012 in the NZ-new market (and it wouldn’t surprise me either if it wasn’t in the 2nd hand market also). Big deal I hear you say, however it’s useful for the exploration.

In the grand scheme of NZ-capitalist history, it’s only relatively recently that car imports haven’t been stung by swingeing import duties. While that particular protectionist firewall was in place, the Japanese were busy innovating by making cars reliable. Your average UK ‘kit’ car (assembled onshore to reduce the duty) imported into NZ was about as reliable as a piece of broken number 8 wire. Once word got out that you didn’t have to spend all your time fixing a broken steed there was no looking back.

[It’s a delicious irony that now most of the UK car companies are foreign owned, their product has improved sufficient to be a notable export success, eg. Jaguar Land Rover].
As remains unchanged to this day in New Zealand, most commoditised consumer goods get imported, as the place doesn’t have the economies of scale to manufacture to be globally competitively – milk and milk products aside. It used to be a simple choice, informed by peer groups and family bias – the product that topped the purchase cost/ reliability, running and service costs/ retained value equation.

Now there’s new pretenders like Hyundai/ Kia to fill the space left by dynamic shortcomings of the incumbents. Honda are having a miserable time with their new Civic in both America and Europe, as it’s less fun to drive, less well equipped, even less reliable in some cases than viable opposition. And so with the Corolla. You’d buy it if it was company money and you had an eye for depreciation over everything else.

New Zealand Japanese car marketeers like to feature the ‘European-ness’ of their offerings, as if sprinkling a tenuous history of culture, revolutions, and war, with perhaps a bit of art is enough to sway the Kiwi carbuyer. Laughably (until recently) even the French (and especially the Italian) brands were in on the act. As if Gallic flair were enough for constant electrical problems, or thoroughbred connotations helped you overcome regular ‘taxi rides’ on the back of a tow truck.
The commoditised nature of personal transport these days means that while award winning marketing promises, it’s to the past that we believe in the delivery. A one or two horse race has now become a Grand National field of many, with the 3rd generation of vehicle manufacturers learning from those that went before. They’re making a better product, dynamically, emotionally and financially, and while it will take a few years for that to filter through to the new sales charts, I’d say that the Corolla’s days as #1 in the NZ market are numbered.

What may have been disregarded in the past somewhat disparagingly as ‘washing machine’ brands, are now beating both the premium Euro-boxes and Japanese stalwarts at their own game.
This rant concentrates on the immediate future, influenced by the past and not referencing the bigger elephant in the room of how personal (motorised) transport is inextricably tied to mature energy sources, infrastructure and markets.

In the meantime (some of) the herd will continue to look at the Corolla as ‘best in class’. Those who maybe haven’t kept up with the technology revolution, still think education will be delivered by the State instead of increasingly online, and lament the closure of independent shops.
There’s only one constant, and that is change. Instead of measuring the past and imagining it will have some divine influence on the future, I’d be keen to see NZ-motoring journalists make their predictions for the future shape of both ‘best-sellers’ and also the shape of the transportation networks that we’ll be using in the future. Maybe the Corolla defines the end of an era, of personal rather than collaborative transit – where our futures lie far beyond existing (white elephant?) infrastructure projects.

©David Binstead 2013.


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