Toyota Takes on Trucks

Toyota has long been known as a producer of durable, long lasting compact pickup trucks, yet recent years have seen them rapidly expand the truck line-up.

Toyota has long been known as a producer of durable, long lasting compact pickup trucks, yet recent years have seen them rapidly expand the truck line-up. The Tacoma, produced at NUMMI, has been a segment standard for over a decade, with a strong, committed following—especially in the western states. Toyota has recently expanded the Tacoma line-up with the four-door Tacoma Double Cab. The Double Cab is among the best of the pickup-focused offerings on the market

The Tacoma Double Cab
The Tacoma Double Cab: One of many trucks that are a part of Toyota’s emphasis on growing its share of the U.S. light-truck market.

But to be successful, Toyota needed more than a small pickup. The full-size Tundra has been the most critical step in the expansion of the product line-up. In the span of one year, the Tundra has established itself as a best-in-class, full-size pickup. The division that once fielded a woefully weak T-100 is now, in many ways, the industry bogey. The Tundra has been an important step in increasing the acceptance of Toyota among traditional pickup truck buyers. This acceptance as a manufacturer of vehicles specifically for the U.S. market will be a critical step for the division and the company as a whole.

Toyota has for some time delivered the Land Cruiser, a strong full-size sport utility vehicle. Over that time, the low-volume vehicle has developed a global reputation for outstanding quality and ruggedness yet sales remained extremely low. Last year, Toyota took another step into the full-size sport utility segment. This time with a more mainstream product. The Sequoia, a direct competitor to the Ford Expedition and Chevy Tahoe, has proven to be a worthy entry. Built off the Tundra platform in Princeton, IN, the Sequoia delivers full-size SUV done American-style.

Toyota has also had a long-standing successful (albeit again lower volume) product in the mid-size sport utility segment—the 4Runner. While the 4Runner has never been anywhere near the Ford Explorer in sales, it has a premier reputation. The 4Runner has a partner in the mid-size sport utility market, the Highlander. The 4Runner is a body-on-frame, off-road capable vehicle, while the Highlander may epitomize the cross-over, unibody based, on-road SUV. While the 4Runner has had a couple of decades to establish its reputation as a leader, the Highlander appears to be quickly establishing itself as the best cross-over on the market. Early reviews indicate that Highlander, like the Lexus RX300 that it shares engineering with, will be the standard to judge future cross-over vehicles. The Highlander and the 4Runner vehicles give Toyota the best mid-size sport utility combination in the industry.

While Toyota has done an outstanding job of growing with traditional truck-like products, it may be the success in those cross-over vehicles that helps the company redefine itself as a top-of-the-line truck maker. In the late ‘90s the RAV4 was, much like the Highlander is today, a segment-defining vehicle. Together with the Highlander it gives them a strong pair of cross-overs, and Toyota is not done. The Matrix, a subcompact all-wheel-drive tall car/cross-over type of vehicle will hit the market next winter. While the Matrix is a subcompact sportwagon, the all-wheel- drive and more upright seating position help it to fit in nicely with the RAV4 into this new cross-over segment. The division, once viewed as a marketer of Japanese cars, has done an effective job of transforming into one that has a full range of vehicles for car, truck and all things in between.