Toyota New Zealand has confirmed it will upgrade its top-selling Hilux ute to gain a five-star safety rating from the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) next year.
The present model has a four-star rating so Toyota NZ's General Manager of New Vehicles, Steve Prangell told Driven this week that the company was pushing for the top place.
"We have various engineering requests in with Toyota (Japan) for the major facelift next year that we will adopt enough added specifications to get to five-star ANCAP rating."
The key factor is a centre three-point Emergency Locking Retractor (ELR) seatbelt for the rear seat of the double-cab Hilux.
"We're engineering for that now, and should see the new Hilux in mid-2013," said Prangell.
The demand for the five-star status also comes from Australia with mining giant BHP Billiton announcing this week a blanket five-star policy for all vehicles bought for its fleet.
ANCAP chief executive Nicholas Clarke said the announcement would serve as added impetus for manufacturers to include higher levels of safety in both passenger cars and light commercial vehicles (LCVs).
He said LCV safety lagged behind other vehicle segments.
"This demonstrates the supporting influence big business can have on manufacturers and we encourage other businesses, large and small, to consider adopting a similar policy," he told GoAuto.
Toyota isn't the only ute manufacturer to feel the pressure to provide the safest vehicles - the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi's Triton also have four-star rating.
Toyota has had the top selling ute in New Zealand for at least 15 years and last year held top spot with 3810 Hilux sold.
Already this year Hilux is staying ahead of the competition but is feeling pressure from Ford's Ranger. The big ute, with a five-star ANCAP rating, topped sales in April - just one ahead of the Hilux.
That's also alarming news for the perennial runner-up, the Navara. It was in second place last year with a total sales of 2253 but it will soon be feeling the pressure with the arrival of the new-generation Holden Colorado, which is expected to breeze through the ANCAP crash testing regime for a five-star count.
The Colorado will be launched here later this year with Holden New Zealand receiving frequent phone calls and emails from potential buyers wanting to know when it's in the car yards.