INDIA@75: Qualis, the never-say-die brand
Many first buyers, impressed by the vehicle’s fuel efficiency and low maintenance were loath to part with it but getting spares is next to impossible.
Almost 22 years after it made its debut, the Toyota Qualis based on the Kijang that was the Japanese company’s global product at one time, is one brand that its patrons still fondly remember.
The vehicle which marked the entry of Toyota into India as a JV with the Kirloskar Group in India in 2000 was based on the 3rd Generation global model, but with updated front and rear styling and also shared some 4th generation drivetrain components.
When it was launched, it was pitched against the already successful Tata Sumo and Mahindra Bolero, both well-entrenched in the segment. But Toyota’s formidable reputation, and the vehicle’s tremendous attributes slowly helped it become the favourite of large Indian families and fleet operators. In the process, the Qualis redefined India’s multi-purpose vehicle market. The vehicle derived its name from Quality and Service and made its debut with a price tag of Rs 4.58 lakh, and in three variants: family saloon (FS), grand saloon (GS) and grand saloon-touring (GST).
Toyota has learnt its lessons from its earlier joint venture with DCM to introduce an LCV in India to take on the Tatas. However, Tata put together the 407 workhorse which proved to be a formidable player, and thwarted the Japanese company’s ambitions. By the end of the first year itself, the Qualis established its leadership in the segment, selling over 21,000 units, and accounting for a 35 percent market share. That rose to 28,000 in the second year.
During its tenure, the MPV sold over 1,40,000 units. To many, Toyota’s decision to withdraw the model at the height of its performance came as a surprise as they loved the vehicle’s fuel efficiency and low maintenance. In a press note, the company elaborated on the reasons for the decision to withdraw the vehicle.
It said the Qualis would give way for a more modern and customer-value driven vehicle that would enable TKM to achieve volume and market share objectives in India. The company’s then MD Atsushi Toyoshima said,” The Qualis has been our mainstay in India for the past five years. It has provided the perfect platform for Toyota in this country, but we feel it is time to bring in newer products that will provide better value to the customer.”
If you are looking for a used Toyota Qualis today, a few hundred are still available in good condition, and online in sites such as CarWale which has 33 used Qualises. A glance at those featured online suggest that nearly all are first-time owned, and have on average, clocked at least 1,40,000 kms. Most are diesel-powered and are models that have been manufactured between 2003 and 2004. You may find several Qualises in smaller towns too.
One online seller described it as a "masterpiece of engineering" perhaps hoping to entice a buyer and get a good price. The Qualis' available online typically retail at Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh, less than what a base version of Maruti Alto would cost today.
Many die-hard fans of the vehicle have set up clubs and there are some fan clubs on Facebook which are largely used to connect with other buyers, as well as obtain the hard to get spares. A YouTube channel called Qualis Lovers Kerala has 6.55k followers. A Kerala-based actor turned politician claims he still used his 20-year old metallic-blue Qualis and won’t give it up for anything.
During its five-year life, the Qualis won awards from eminent institutions such as JD Power, NFO Automotive and was recognised as Customer Friendly with accolades from the JD Power Customer Satisfaction Award on the vehicle in 2001.
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