February 8, 2013 in Business

Humbled Toyota rolls out new Tundra pickup

World’s leading automaker scales back truck ambitions
Tom Krisher And Dee-Ann Durbin Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The redesigned 2014 Toyota Tundra is unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

DETROIT – Back in 2007, Toyota trumpeted its bulked-up Tundra as a game-changer that would cut into Detroit’s dominance of the U.S. pickup truck market.

“The truck that’s changing it all,” was the tagline from an ad that featured the beefy Tundra pulling a 10,000-pound trailer up a steep ramp.

But after six years on the market, the Tundra hasn’t changed much of anything. Instead, Toyota learned that unlike car buyers, American pickup owners are still fiercely loyal to their Fords, Rams and Chevrolets. And that Detroit feverishly guards its lead in the high-margin truck business.

Toyota rolled out the 2014 Tundra on Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show, minus lofty sales goals or talk of breaking into Detroit’s cash box. The new version goes on sale in September. The price and gas mileage haven’t been announced.

Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelly Blue Book, said Tundra won’t lure new buyers unless it costs less or offers compelling features to make it different.

Longtime Detroit buyers agree. Jon Carey, who co-owns a drywall business near Ann Arbor, Mich., hauls tools and building materials with two Ram pickups purchased in 2006, and he sees no reason to switch.

“If you’re just talking apples-to-apples, in my opinion, they’ll never break into it,” Carey said of Toyota. “If they were giving the same price point, I don’t know that I would necessarily switch. There would have to be some real reason behind it.”

The 2014 Tundra has a tougher squared-off look with a bold grille and more aerodynamic exterior, a more comfortable interior and a long list of practical and luxury features, such as a blind spot monitor and a standard backup camera.

But it lacks the type of changes Gutierrez hinted at. For instance, the choice of engines remains the same. General Motors, meanwhile, is offering more powerful and efficient motors with its new Chevy and GMC full-size pickups, which go on sale in the spring. And at last month’s Detroit auto show, Ford gave a sneak peek at a new F-Series truck – due out next year – which it says will weigh far less to improve fuel economy.

Instead, the world’s leader in auto sales seems happy to protect the Tundra’s 6 percent share of the big pickup market – especially when truck sales are rising as the economy recovers from the Great Recession. Gas mileage will be about the same as the current Tundra, 18 to 20 miles per gallon on the highway, Toyota says.

Toyota’s U.S. sales chief, Jim Lentz, doesn’t expect to increase pickup market share.

“We’re very comfortable with what our volume is in that segment,” Lentz said last month.

Buyers who waited for years to replace trucks are rewarding themselves by loading them with options, and Toyota intends to take advantage of that, said Bob Carter, a Toyota senior vice president in the U.S. The company added two premium lines, including the “1794 Edition,” named for the San Antonio ranch – founded in 1794 – where the Tundra plant is located. The 1794 has fancy saddlelike leather seats that are heated and cooled.

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