Designed for women? How the Toyota Passo Sette turned from flop into the Perodua Alza?

CY Foong · Nov 29, 2020 10:00 AM

It’s one of the oldest new cars that you can still buy in Malaysia, but the Perodua Alza is still one of Malaysia’s favourite MPVs. It’s a market that is slowly diminishing as most Malaysian families prefer getting SUVs instead.

But while the Alza had turned 11 just a few days ago – it was launched on 23-November 2009 – its Japanese twin cousins were more or less domestic flops. The Toyota Passo Sette and Daihatsu Boon Luminas were sold for only 4 years between 2008 and 2012.

Toyota Passo Sette (top) and Daihatsu Boon Luminas (bottom)

So, what's the secret ingredient that made the Alza a huge success, selling far longer than its Japanese cousins? In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of the Alza’s JDM cousins and the reasons for their poor sales.

Hopping on the bandwagon

Truthfully, the Passo Sette/Boon Luminas had the right recipe for being a success in Japan seeing how popular the compact MPV segment was. The Passo Sette was actually an OEM twin of the Boon Luminas, with Daihatsu leading the development of its first compact MPV.

As the names suggest, both MPVs shared a platform with the Toyota Passo/Daihatsu Boon/first- and second-gen Perodua Myvi albeit longer. The name ‘Sette’ stands for seven in Italian while Luminas is probably derived from the word luminous.

Both the Passo Sette and Boon Luminas were only offered with a 1.5-litre 3SZ-VE inline-4 engine mated to a 4-speed automatic. Both models came with either a front-wheel-drive or an all-wheel-drive set-up. So, what exactly went wrong?

Reason # 1: Lack of sliding doors

A hallmark of JDM MPVs is the use of sliding doors. Whether it’s operated automatically or manually, it’s a must for your MPV to have sliding doors instead of conventional doors to succeed in Japan.

Take a look at other compact MPVs at the time such as the Honda Freed and the Toyota Sienta. Both models are pretty successful in Japan and featured the coveted sliding doors.

MPVs are mainly used to transport families and since Japan has an ageing population, it’s also normally used to ferry older folks around. As such, it’s easier to get in and out of the car for them with sliding doors but due to the Passo Sette/Boon Luminas lacking them, sales were affected.

The model's long legs aren't helping to sell the car's accessibility though...

However, if buyers did get one, they’ll be greeted with rear doors that open wider than conventional doors (up to 70-degrees) which allows easier entry to the third row.

Reason #2: Bad marketing

It is interesting to note that both Daihatsu and Toyota have very different ways of marketing their models despite being similar. Daihatsu’s marketing approach on the Boon Luminas was fun and weird, featuring talking animals. Just a normal Japanese commercial then.

However, it was Toyota’s approach that caused poor sales. When thinking of a demographic to sell the Passo Sette, the marketing team decided to target the MPV to women in their 30s and 40s.

Nothing wrong with that, except the women portrayed in the commercials were wealthy with an unrealistic lifestyle. Despite using popular models as the faces of the MPV, the commercial was heavily criticised and became one of the worst car commercials in Japan.

One man’s flop is another man’s success?

An Alza trying its best to PASS On as a SETTE

About a year after the Passo Sette/Boon Luminas was unveiled in Japan, Perodua launched the Alza in Malaysia, and well, you know the rest of the story.

Malaysians don’t mind that the Alza came with conventional doors because it’s what made the Alza an affordable people’s carrier. The interior is quintessentially Japanese, something that Malaysians adore.

From a Japanese buyer’s point of view, the Passo Sette/Boon Luminas wasn’t an MPV worth getting, either due to better competitors or poor marketing direction. However, from a Malaysian buyer’s perspective, the Alza offers good value. Even if it’s long due for a replacement.