You’ve seen them before, photos from some godforsaken place of insurgent warfare. A half dozen rag tag soldiers, if you can call them soldiers, bristling with Chinese Kalishnikov knockoffs, piled into a Toyota Hilux with a heavy machine gun or some other armament like a recoil-less rifle or ack-ack gun mounted on the roof or in the bed. The Toyota Hilux has been the choice of low level combatants around the world since the 1960s. As noted by China Car Times, when Muammar Gaddafi (is there a world leader whose names, first and last, are spelled in so many different ways?) had one of his snit fits and invaded Chad in 1987 to overturn the government, both sides used so many Hiluxes that Time magazine dubbed it the Toyota War. In the early 90s, the war in Somalia brought us the term “technical”, interestingly enough derived from the NGO practice of hiring local gunmen to protect their employees, and paying them with funds earmarked as “technical assitance grants”.
The Hilux was simple, durable, reliable, easy to fix and you could get parts for it anywhere. A modern day version of the original military Jeep, if you will. I don’t know if it’s good PR to have your product identified with mercenaries, gunmen and rebels, but it’s possible that Toyota was helped by news photos and video showing the Toyota logo on the tailgate of trucks obviously performing in severe duty.
Toyota, though, may be losing its mojo when it comes to the insurgent market [Ed: despite retaining a resilient brand, an interesting parallel to the civilian market]. The Hilux has gained weight and luxury, two things not needed nor desired by a rebel army that must be quick on its feet, er… wheels. It’s also grown more expensive. Toyota was once sort of an insurgent itself in a lot of markets. Now Toyota faces competition from cheaper, perhaps even more aggressive competitors from China. Though you may not be able to get a Ford guy out of his F-150, trading it in on a Silverado, it appears that you can get a warlord or rebel to consider a different brand for their fleet of technicals.
Chinese manufacturers like Greatwall, Huanghai and ZX Auto have made a push into the Middle East. Their trucks are cheap, $10,000 USD or less, about what Hiluxes cost years ago, and they are relatively simple by today”s standards. Actually since those Chinese companies are using old Toyota and Isuzu designs, they are very much like the older Hiluxes.
Eagle eyed followers of things automotive and military have noticed in the fighting in Libya, that ZX pickups are starting to replace Toyotas as the choice of the discriminating technical driver. In the photo above, you can see a bunch of ZX Grandtiger trucks in formation (of a sorts). To be sure, out in the front there’s that ubiquitous Toyota tailgate as a Hilux leads the charge, but it’s clear that recalls and tsunamis aren’t Toyota’s only recent setbacks. ZX now claims to have half of the small pickup market in Libya, The trucks used as technicals in the photo above are possibly part of the shipment of 6,000 trucks in a single shipment to Tripoli in 2009. Recently ZX announced that in January of 2011 they exported 2,250 units of the Grandtiger to Libya. That was just before unrest started proliferating across the Arab world.
Apparently the Grandtiger pickups in the photo below are part of that January shipment.
If you look at the Libyan technical above, other than the tape strpe, it’s the same four door truck as the technical below, down to the roll bar, running boards and wheels.