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Toyota backs off full-sized pickup war

Toyota won't engage the Tundra in U.S. pickup truck sales wars this year.
PARIS -- Despite its recent 0 percent financing deals, Toyota is not going to engage Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge in their full-sized pickup sales war, said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

“I don’t want to get stuck in the middle of Ford and Chevy battling for the No. 1 truck this year, and Dodge launching the Ram,” Lentz said in an interview here.

Chevrolet sold 50,428 Silverados last month,off just 3.9 percent in a plummeting segment that saw Tundra fall 60.7 percent, the Ford F-150 drop 41.6 percent, and Dodge Ram off 30.9 percent. Toyota had hoped to sell about 20,000 Tundras a month this year; September sales were just 7,696 units.

Lentz said part of the decline was an abbreviated 2008 model year from its Texas and Indiana truck plants that were temporarily shut down. With a segment forecast to be as low as 1.5 million units -- down from a peak of 2.5 million units -- the pickup fight could get desperate. It doesn’t help Toyota that many of its past Tundra buyers -- such as those who drive because of image and commuters -- are walking away from the segment.

“There are a lot of substitutions” for other vehicles, “and most of them won’t be back,” Lentz said.

Lentz also confirmed that the development of a diesel-engine variant of the Tundra has been tabled. While the diesel has not been canceled outright, Toyota is studying whether it makes sense to enter such a small segment. That’s a big step back from Toyota telling dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention last year that a diesel would arrive by 2010 or 2011.

You can reach Mark Rechtin at mrechtin@crain.com

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