As U.S. consumers flock to showrooms in search of big trucks, Toyota Motor Corp. hopes to cash in on the craze with the launch of a revamped Tundra full-size pickup.
The automaker unveiled its 2018 Toyota Tundra at the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday. Together with a mini facelift and updated standard safety features, the new truck is set to hit dealer lots this summer.
The most noticeable aesthetic on the 2018 Tundra full-size pickup is the freshened front end that features new grille designs and headlamps.
The base SR and SR5, have a new mesh look complemented by halogen headlights with a black bezel. The Tundra Limited, Platinum and 1794 Edition get a billet-style grill and LED headlights. All trims are now equipped with LED Daytime Running Lights as standard.
But the engine choices continue unchanged. A 4.6-liter V8 engine is available with 310 horsepower, along with a 5.7-liter V8 with 381 horsepower.
The Tundra plays an important role in Toyota’s U.S. portfolio. In 2016, light trucks – which includes pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers – accounted for 60 percent of all vehicle sales, up from 55 percent in 2015. Sales of full-size pickup trucks grew by 2.7 percent in 2016.
Yet the Tundra has failed to gain traction against full-size heavy hitters from Ford, Chevrolet and Ram.
Toyota sold about 115,000 Tundras in 2016, which is a far cry from sales of nearly 490,000 Ram pickups, 575,000 Siverados and more than 820,000 F-Series trucks.
Tundra sales also contracted 2.9 percent in 2016, and its market share in the segment shrunk from 5.4 percent in 2015 to 5.1 percent in 2016.
“There’s very little that Tundra can do to challenge the other three in terms of sales volume,” said Stephanie Brinley, analyst for global market research firm IHS Markit. “So what Toyota and Tundra need to work on is making sure the truck they produce is profitable and meeting the needs of their customers.”
Toyota does not offer a heavy duty full-size truck, Brinley said, which other brands sell for higher prices and can increase credibility among truck enthusiasts.
In addition, competitors have introduced new models or made significant improvements in recent years, and the Tundra has struggled to keep pace. Market research firm J.D. Power classifies the Tundra as not having a full refresh since 2007.
And the new truck does not take measures to improve fuel economy – its most efficient 2017 trim earned a last-in-class EPA rating of 16 mpg for combined city and highway driving.
Despite Toyota’s struggle to make inroads with the Tundra, its mid-sized Tacoma pickup truck is still the top dog in its segment. The Tacoma sold more than 190,000 units in 2016 and captured 45.1 percent market share.
This illustrates Toyota’s familiarity with mid-sized trucks, compared to a steep learning curve for larger ones, Brinley said.
“Full-size pickup trucks are largely [in the U.S.] and in really small volumes anywhere else,” she said. “Tacoma is a global product that has been successful in a lot of different markets. I think that’s why it’s easier for Toyota to get their head around the Tacoma.”
Historically, one bright spot for the Tundra has been its array of standard features. New for 2018, all trim levels include the Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) package at no added cost. TSS-P includes:
- Lane Departure Alert
- Auto High Beams
- Dynamic Radar Cruise Control that maintains a safe distance with the car ahead by speeding up or slowing down on its own
- Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection that activates audio and visual alerts to warn the driver of a possible accident, followed by automated braking to reduce or avoid the collision if necessary\
“Safety is one of the driving motives of why people choose one vehicle over another,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of Global Automotive at J.D. Power. “It should certainly help to compete against Chevy and Ford, but I don’t know whether by itself it’s enough to really significantly move the needle on their sales.”
“I think they’re trading on their brand and the fact they do have a loyal fanbase,” Sargent said.
The Tundra’s reliability and strong resale value are also among its best attributes, he said. “From a consumer standpoint it’s a really good vehicle but I think they do struggle in terms of image.”
The 2018 Tundra may not be a significant leap forward, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable, Brinley said.
Toyota also used the Chicago show to debut an off-road focused Tundra TRD Sport, outfitted by the brand’s Toyota Racing Development unit. The Tundra TRD Sport is equipped with TRD Sport Tuned Bilstein Shocks and TRD anti-sway bars both front and rear for added performance. Tundra TRD Sport models will be powered by the 5.7L V8 engine and could energize Toyota enthusiasts, Sargent said.
“Special editions and adding new models are really good at reaching the vehicle loyalists and it gives them something to be excited about,” she said. “Even if they don’t buy right now.”
Toyota will announce price information closer to when the 2018 Tundra goes on sale this fall.