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Toyota Tacoma: 10 Years After

It's been 10 years since there has been a full-model change for this popular compact pickup. And with the '05 Tacoma, Toyota is showing just how serious it is about getting a bigger piece of the light-truck market in the U.S. not only though vehicle design and engineering, but by adding manufacturing capacity, as well.
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Amazing Toyota Fact: Although known for having benchmark-short development cycles for most of its vehicles, this is not the case with the Tacoma compact pickup. The Tacoma, which has been variously known during its more than 30-year existence as the "Stout," "Hilux," and "Toyota pickup"—with the last being its moniker prior to the name "Tacoma" being affixed to it when the 1995 model was launched—hasn't undergone a full-model change since '95. So, with the '05, this means 10 years. Ten years! (OK: It's not that they've been working on the development of this vehicle for 10 years. And there have been some changes—'97: redesigned front end. . .'98 PreRunner introduced...'01 double cab added...But still: this is exceedingly un-Toyota-like.)

Given, however, the abiding interest in pickups large, and less-so, for now, small, chances are there will be shorter cycles as time goes on: Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager, Toyota Div., states: "Toyota's future plans include a continuing evolution of its trucks that involve increases in size and performance." He speaks of a two-truck strategy, with the '05 Tacoma being one and the next-generation model year '07 full-size Tundra pickup being the other.

How significant is this strategy? The Tacoma is being built in the NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA. This year they'll be producing some 146,000 vehicles. They'll be selling some 146,000 vehicles. So for the '05, for which they are looking for a bigger piece of the market, they are adding additional capacity at a new plant in Baja, Mexico. The Tundra's story is similar: "We are selling every Tundra we can squeeze out of our Princeton, Indiana, factory. In fact, if we could build more Tundras, we could sell more Tundras." In mid-'06 they will be able to build more Tundras, as Toyota is constructing a plant in San Antonio, TX, to produce pickups. The capacity: 150,000 units per year. Initially.

In addition to the Tacoma and the Tundra, Toyota lists the Sequoia full-size SUV, the Highlander car-based SUV, and the Sienna minivan among its light-truck offerings. Add in the Lexus RX 330, LX 430, and LX 470 SUVs, then the Toyota light-truck market share in the U.S. is 10%. (Coincidentally: the Tacoma model accounts for 10% of Toyota's U.S. sales.)

Here's something to give pause to those people at other vehicle manufacturing companies who imagine that their position in the light truck market is unassailable: "We are on a serious mission to build light truck market share that will match our strong car presence in the U.S.," Esmond states.

So this is probably the only time you'll ever again see mention of a 10-year cycle as regards anything from Toyota.

Enthusiasm Matters: Yuichiro Obu, chief engineer for the '05 Tacoma, is a self-professed "car guy." For example, he says that he started collecting issues of Car Graphic, a Japanese magazine, when he was 11. Some 40 years later, he estimates that the collection of magazines forms a stack 10-meters high. In addition to which, he enjoys assembling 1/25-scale model cars, especially vehicles of the '50s, '60s, and '70s. ("American iron," he says.) His model-making has led him to collect additional kits. Right now, he has some 1,000 kits waiting to be assembled. Based on his putting together 3 to 4 models per year, he calculates he'll have to live at least 250 more years to get it done.

The Tacoma is well known for its acceptance by young men, in particular (in the compact pickup truck category, among buyers under 20, 43% buy a Tacoma). Because it has proven to have a durable chassis, it is often slammed around in the sand and dirt at places like Silver Lake, MI, Glamis, CA, and Barnwell, TX. Not surprisingly, Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has developed an Off-Road Package (including a locking rear differential, progressive-rate front springs, tuned Bilstein shocks, 28-mm front stabilizer bar, fog lamps, and 265/70R16 BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tires). So in developing the '05 model, Obu had to keep the off-roaders in mind, as well as those people who are simply interested in a truck. As Esmond explains, "It must be a work truck and a fun truck. It must be basic and functional for some, and roomy and refined for others. It must be rugged and reliable and aggressively styled. Most of all, it must live up to a well-earned heritage of bulletproof reliability." Given just that, Obu undoubtedly had his plate full.

But he's a car guy. Among his favorite models are the vintage Ferraris he's assembled. So even though the '05 Tacoma has a stronger and stiffer chassis and improved suspension and steering than its predecessor, Obu wanted to do a little more, a little extra. As he puts it, "I thought I could create another category of vehicle, the 'muscle truck.'" And so he went to work on the 245-hp X-Runner. When he says "muscle truck" he doesn't mean, say, a prodigious powerhouse like the Dodge Ram SRT 10. He explains, "I wanted it to outperform not only all competitive sport trucks, but also many sports cars. We actually benchmarked the X-Runner against the current Nissan 350-Z. During extensive testing, the X-Runner's road-holding ability was measured in excess of 0.9 g's of lateral acceleration, which is better than the Z." After a beat, Obu adds, "Using the same brand and model tire as the Ferrari Enzo may have helped that a bit." (255/45R18 Bridgestone Potenzas.)

The X-Runner is a special-interest vehicle. Plans call for annual production of just 3,500 units.

Extensive Enterprise. This is certainly remarkable. Or seemingly out of the ordinary. Chief engineer Obu says: "Hino Motors had done a great deal of engineering and development on the Prado platform," and then he goes on to note that the Prado platform is used for the Lexus GX 470 and the Toyota 4Runner. And that a version of Prado is used for the Tacoma. "Since Hino is headquartered in Tokyo, most of the development work had to be done in Japan," Obu says. And he goes on to say that the vehicle was also styled by Hino. (The previous-generation Tacoma was styled by the Toyota Calty studio in Newport Beach, CA).

the company actually became a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp. (with TMC owning 50.1% of the company).

What makes this unusual is that the product in question is fundamentally a U.S. product. As Esmond acknowledges, "For most people outside the U.S., America's love affair with the pickup truck is, at first, puzzling. The pickup truck is, indeed, a uniquely American phenomenon." But while a considerable amount of work was done by Hino engineers in Tokyo, there was input to Hino from people who are based at the Toyota Technical Center (TTC) in Ann Arbor. Buz A. McCain, executive program manager, Development Planning & Operations at TTC, notes that he had had a lot of seat time on Northwest in the last year, working with Hino on the Tacoma.

One of the ideas that the TTC folks provided to the new Tacoma is a fiber-reinforced sheet-molded compound (SMC) truck bed that, according to Obu, costs 50% less to tool than a steel bed, is 10% lighter, and is tougher and more durable than a comparable steel bed. The bed is available with a variety of accessories, ranging from a 400-W, 115-VAC three-pronged grounded outlet to locking storage boxes to bed dividers to bike racks.

The truck beds had been stamped by Toyota's TABC operation in Long Beach, CA (TABC is Toyota's longest-running manufacturing facility in North America: it was established in 1972). But now just the steel outer surfaces are being stamped by TABC, and they're shipped to Toyota Motor Manufacturing de Baja California (Mexico). There, the steel panels are assembled with the SMC boxes that are molded by a ThyssenKrupp Budd facility in Mexico. The majority of the assembled beds are then shipped north to the NUMMI plant. In December '04 the Baja plant will complement NUMMI's production of the Tacoma; it will have the capacity to produce 30,000 trucks per year (with the annual sales plan calling for 170,000 units, in total).

Clearly, with the addition of capacity for the Tacoma and the forthcoming addition for the Tundra, along with the 300,000-unit capacity at the Princeton, IN, plant, the addition of the Lexus RX 330 at the Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, plant (capacity for that vehicle: 60,000), Toyota is getting even more serious about the light truck market.

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