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Gazoo Racing is the last piece of the puzzle for Toyota Australia – and rivals should be scared

Toyota is already a dominant force in Australia, but it lacks one thing: a credible performance brand. That's about to change.

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Scott Collie
News Editor

Toyota dominates in Australia. It’s the best-selling brand in the country by a staggering margin, with a 21.8 per cent share of the market to date in 2020.

The HiLux is the best-selling ute in Australia when 4×4 and 4×2 sales are combined, the RAV4 tops the booming mid-sized SUV market, the Corolla remains the top-selling passenger car, and the Camry, Prado, and HiAce each top their respective segments.

What’s missing? A sports sub-brand with credibility. After all, Aussies love sports cars, or sporty cars, or cars with sporty badges.

Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, Volkswagen R, and Renault RS-branded cars all sell better here than almost anywhere else in the world as a proportion of their parents’ overall sales.

Toyota has tried to tap into this love before, with the TRD HiLux and Aurion, but the TRD badge never really caught hold in a market dominated by home-grown SS Commodores and XR8 Falcons.

It’s probably not fair to say the TRD push was half-hearted, but excitement wasn’t really a core part of the Toyota brand at the time, and the effort put into the HiLux and Aurion wasn’t replicated anywhere else in the line-up.

The sporty flame slowly died, and the brand went back to making affordable, reliable cars for the masses, with the exception of the niche but very nice GT86 co-developed with Subaru. And then along came the TNGA platform, and regular Toyotas became fun to drive.

Along came the Supra, followed by the promise of a Le Mans-derived hypercar, and we all sat up and took notice. And then we saw the GR Yaris, and we wanted one.

With all-wheel drive, a pumped-up three-cylinder engine, and a bespoke three-door body, the chat in our office was that it’d cost around $50,000 before on-roads. Another expensive hatch for the few, destined to thrill lucky buyers willing to ignore the Honda Civic Type R.

That won’t be the case, at least not for the first 1000 people to put down a $1000 deposit. Instead of more than $50,000 on the road, the GR Yaris will cost just $39,950 drive-away.

Toyota says the starting price – the costs of which is being covered by Toyota Australia, not head office – is an “investment” in the future of Gazoo Racing, in the same way the first Prius was an investment in the future of hybrid technology Down Under.

“This is an investment for the long term,” said Toyota Australia vice president of sales and marketing, Sean Hanley.

“It’s not a short game for volume,” he later said. “It’s a long-term investment in what I think will be an absolute excitement brand for this company.”

“I don’t look at dollars and cents on a 12 month basis. I can see GR brand escalating in this country over the next five to 10 years very quickly. Therefore, when I take a long-term view of this investment, it’s solid. It’s right.”

We don’t know what’s coming next for Gazoo Racing in Australia, but we have a pretty good idea. A GR Corolla has been leaked, rumoured, and speculated upon for more than 12 months now, and would make a logical part of the brand’s line-up.

The next-generation 86 will be GR branded, and it doesn’t take a brilliant mind to assume the best-selling HiLux will get a GR makeover at some point.

Toyota is promising to keep owners engaged, too, in the same way Hyundai has with its N Performance festivals.

The crazy thing about all of this? The people who buy the GR Yaris are expected to be new to the brand. The people buying a GR Corolla are likely the same people who would’ve otherwise laid down their hard-earned on a Golf GTI or Megane RS.

And once the full-on GR brand is up and running, Toyota can start adding semi-skim GR-Line models to its range to woo people from the R-Line, RS-Line, and GT-Line rivals.

It might already own more than 21 per cent of the Australian new car market, but there’s plenty more volume out there for the Big T to hoover up from its rivals.

If it gets the Gazoo Racing brand right, it has the tools to do just that. The only gap in the Toyota Australia line-up is being filled, and the rest of the market should be very, very worried.

Are you excited for a range of hotter Toyotas?