Toyota Motor Corp. is making a fresh assault on the full-sized pickup market with a redesigned 2014 Tundra unveiled today at the Chicago Auto Show.
The 2014 model, mechanically very similar to the outgoing Tundra, has undergone significant sheet metal and interior changes. And a new version called the 1794 Edition will give Tundra two luxury variations, including a reworked Platinum model that now costs more than $48,000 with options.
But will it be enough to convince truck enthusiasts to buy a Tundra instead of the recent and upcoming redesigns of the Dodge Ram, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ford F series?
In 2007, with the second-generation Tundra, Toyota targeted annual U.S. large-pickup sales of 200,000 -- which would have nearly doubled its previous high -- as a launching point for greater strides in a segment long dominated by the Detroit 3.
In late 2006, Toyota opened a plant in San Antonio devoted solely to cranking out Tundras.
Toyota nearly hit its target in 2007 when U.S. sales of the Tundra reached 196,555. The company's share of the big pickup market peaked at 9.2 percent the same year.
Toyota executives talked of blowing out the back wall of the Texas assembly plant, given that the company had purchased plenty of additional land beyond the factory's footprint. There was even talk of a diesel and heavy-duty version.
Rebound from recession?
Then the recession hit, and Tundra sales tumbled to 79,385 units in 2009. Toyota shut its factory in Fremont, Calif., and moved production of Tacoma compact pickups to San Antonio to address the drop in Tundra production and to boost the plant's utilization rate.
Tundra sales have recovered in recent years, rising 23 percent in 2012 to 101,621, as overall industry light-vehicle demand has rebounded after the downturn. But its share of the segment stood at 6.2 percent last year. Detroit's three automakers control more than 92 percent of the U.S. large pickup market, where brand loyalty among Ford, Chevrolet and Ram owners runs deep.
U.S. full-sized truck sales will top 1.7 million this year, a gain of more than 50 percent from 2009's low of 1.1 million, according to forecasts by IHS Automotive and LMC Automotive.
Toyota executives are confident Tundra can return to its 200,000 peak as U.S. housing and commercial activity accelerate. When asked how far beyond that number sales will go, they express more caution.
In an interview at the Detroit auto show in January, Jack Hollis, Toyota's vice president for marketing, said he doesn't want to "fight fire with fire" against Detroit's pickups.
"It's important that we don't try to be who they are. The Tundra is not a domestic-fighter," Hollis said. "The elements of the truck, its size, its worth, its strength ... It's all been proven. But how can we put a competitive truck into the domestic world?"
Attracting Tacoma owners
Although Toyota has done a fair job of attracting Ram owners, it hasn't won many Chevy or Ford converts, Hollis said. Rather, Toyota is hoping to draw upon more owners of the Tacoma -- which has captured 55 percent of the compact-pickup segment.
"We own that segment, and a lot of them are looking at moving up. Them, and the people who are disenchanted in what they thought they were getting from a domestic truck," Hollis said.
Toyota is also hoping to attract more owners who prefer a more upscale truck.
If there is one area Toyota holds sway, it's in demographics. Tundra buyers are the youngest -- with an average age of 50 -- in the light-duty truck segment, except for buyers of the slow-selling Nissan Titan, and Tundra buyers have the highest household income -- nearly $155,000 -- of any light-duty truck, according to the AutoPacific 2012 New Vehicle Satisfaction Study.
The 2014 Tundra will continue to be available in three cab configurations and with either two- or four-wheel-drive systems. But trim levels have been expanded to five, and include the base-model SR work truck; SR5; Limited; and top-end Platinum and 1794 Edition trucks.
Platinum is the high-end "urban" Tundra, while the 1794 Edition is a premium rural-use truck, Toyota officials say. The 1794 name refers to the founding year of the San Antonio ranch where Toyota established its Texas pickup plant.
In a nod to the pickup's American roots, the 2014 Tundra remains a U.S.-developed model, with engineering performed in Michigan and exterior and interior design handled in California.
Is it enough?
But for gearheads, the 2014 Tundra may not represent enough of a change.
All three engine choices -- a 4.0-liter V-6, 4.6-liter V-8, and 5.7-liter V-8 -- are carryovers, even down to their horsepower and torque numbers. The V-6 continues with a five-speed automatic, while both V-8s still have a six-speed automatic.
The curb weight is expected to remain the same and Toyota officials said today they do not expect fuel economy ratings to change, perhaps putting the revised Tundra at a disadvantage against Detroit's newest, more fuel-efficient models.
The steering system was modified for improved straight-line stability, to reduce driver fatigue from a too-busy ride.
Tundra's standard features for 2014 will include Bluetooth connectivity, a backup camera, eight airbags, LED headlamps and automatic climate control.
The exterior design gives the Tundra more visual oomph, with corners squared-off, rather than rounded or smoothed. The fascia is more block-like. The word "Tundra" is stamped prominently into the tailgate. The front and rear bumpers are now three pieces, rather than one, to make the cost of replacing those parts cheaper.
The 2014 Tundra was "inspired by customer feedback requesting a more chiseled exterior and refined interior," Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, Toyota division, said in a statement.
Inside, Toyota designers concentrated on ergonomics, such as easing the reach to the audio and climate controls by 2.6 inches. The seats have been redesigned. Air flow from the vents has been increased. The console has multiple storage areas. Cabin noise was reduced with more sound-deadening materials.
Standard features will include Bluetooth connectivity, a backup camera, eight airbags, LED headlamps and automatic climate control.
"Tundra's new exterior design and all-new interior were inspired by customer feedback requesting a more chiseled exterior and refined interior with improved driver ergonomics, and easy-to-use technology, giving customers more of what they want, in addition to what they need," Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager, said in a statement.
The Tundra will go on sale in September. Pricing will be announced closer to launch.
Bradford Wernle and David Phillips contributed to this report