In a market increasingly dominated by imports, there’s one segment still controlled by the Big Three. But maybe not much longer, at least not if the 2007 Toyota Tundra connects with demanding American full-size pickup buyers. The long-awaited update of the Toyota truck blew into the Windy City on Thursday, and as one company executive suggested, “it’s a big, bad mutha.” The Tundra Double Cab Limited on display at Chicago’s McCormick Center, boasts a whopping 145.7-inch wheelbase, a full ten inches longer than the ’06 Access Cab model it replaces.
The 5.7-liter V-8 under the hood of the show car will be one of three different engines Toyota offers when the new Tundra comes to market next January. (There’ll also be a 4.7-liter V-8 and a fuel-stingy 4.0-liter V-6, according to Toyota Motor Sales CEO Jim Press.) The big V-8 is mated to a new six-speed automatic. The automaker was selective with statistics, declining to provide precise mileage, power, and performance statistics — perhaps hoping to see what General Motors will claim when it rolls out its own new full-size trucks later this year. But one number did generate a buzz among the attendant horde of automotive journalists: the new Tundra will deliver Class 4 towing capacity of up to 10,000 pounds. Toyota officials are clearly nervous that the big truck will skew downward their corporate fuel economy numbers, tarnishing an image otherwise burnished by the high-mileage Prius hybrid. So they took pains to promise that Toyotawill maintain the best overall fuel economy of any full-line manufacturer. And company insiders hint a fuel-efficient diesel option is under development, as well.
Though the current Tundra racked up a record 120,000 sales in 2005, Toyota has so far largely failed to connect with American truck buyers since launching its first full-size model, the T-100, fifteen years ago. The segment has traditionally been the most loyal in the market, and potential buyers complained about the lack of power and body variations offered by the automaker. Heavily relying on its Calty design studio, in California , and Michigan technical center, Toyota dove deep into the market to see what buyers wanted, and this time, it will hit the road with 30 different versions of the Tundra, including two- and four-wheel-drive options, three different cabins, and three bed sizes. That includes a full eight-foot bed. The tailgate, incidentally, is damped for “two-finger operation.”
All that added length provides plenty of cargo and passenger space. There’s four inches more room in the front seat, three inches in the rear, where passengers will also get another six inches in hip space. “It’s so roomy,” joked Press, “that you might be worried if your daughter’s date shows up driving one of these.” A range of standard and optional safety features will include oversized brakes, an assortment of airbags, and a rear-facing camera mounted in the tailgate.
Image may not be everything, but it’s clearly critical for the pickup buyer, and with its “fist-shaped” body, the new Tundra was designed to send the message it’s a serious work truck, according to TMS CEO Press. The Double Cab shown rides on 20-inch wheels. The emphasis on ruggedness and towing capacity wasn’t an accident. Where the original Tundra was aimed at the personal-use market, this time ’round, Toyota is targeting “true truckers,” explained Jim Lentz, general manager of the Toyota Division. These are ”the opinion leaders,” he said, “because they use, punish, and demand the most.”
Getting them to opt in will be critical to the new pickup’s acceptance, company officials acknowledged, and so, while Toyota focuses on building buzz, the company is scheduling a relatively conservative roll-out schedule. The current Tundra is being built at the automaker’s plant in Princeton, Indiana. That operation will continue, even with the opening of an all-new pickup plant in San Antonio, Texas, heart of truck country. First-year sales are expected to reach 200,000, said Press. That’s a significant increase from the current Tundra, but a fraction of the 900,000 F-Series Ford sold last year. But just wait. That fits Toyota’s cautious growth strategy, and Press didn’t deny that there’s plenty of room to expand the San Antonio plant if the new Tundra finally clicks with the American truck buyer.