Toyota Kirloskar Motors has withdrawn its popular Qualis multi-utility vehicle. From 31 December, the company stopped shipments to dealers who are offering discounts to clear stock.

The Qualis will be replaced by the Innova MUV, part of Toyota's ambitious Innovative Multi-Purpose Vehicle (IMV) programme, for which its manufacturing facilities in South-East Asian markets are each responsible for the supply of one major system.

The IMV platform will have five body styles and India gets two - the Kijang Innova multi-purpose people carrier and the Fortuner SUV.

Unlike the utilitarian Qualis, the Innova will be pitched more upmarket and is expected to be priced substantially higher than its predecessor.

Toyota-Kirloskar's withdrawl of the Qualis came as a surprise to many, as sales were still very strong and the model had recorded its highest ever retail volume of 4,092 units in December. Toyota sold 36,698 in 2004, 20% more than in 2003.

There was some hope that Toyota would keep making selected versions for the taxi market where the Qualis is popular due to its diesel engine and 10-seat configuration. However, supplier contracts were not renewed beyond December 2004 so the possibility now seems remote.

The Innova will be marketed as a lifestyle vehicle, on the lines of the Chevrolet Tavera. Toyota will not want to aim it at the taxi segment because of the image association.

Deepesh Rathore / Tilak Swarup