Toru Tanaka has been a truck engineer all his working life. After joining Toyota in 1972, he went into the chassis engineering division working on suspension and steering design. His path led him to become the chief engineer for the T100 and now the Tundra, perhaps Toyota's most important new entry ever. Tanaka spoke with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin at the Tundra's press launch in Kona, Hawaii. Edited excerpts follow.
When you sat down to engineer the Tundra, what were your priorities?
Our first priority was how to address performance. We had to satisfy the attributes of V-8 power, towing capacity and payload. The second priority was in looking at the competition. They were sacrificing driving comfort and handling, and we wanted to raise those attributes to a higher standard.
This is Toyota's first big truck, so you couldn't benchmark yourself. What were your targets?
Each of the domestic trucks has its own character. The Dodge Ram has a unique design, the Ford F-150 has good packaging and the Chevrolet Silverado has good performance. We wanted to lift all those attributes and have the best combination.
Some have criticized the Tundra for being designed and engineered in Japan even though it will be built and sold only in America. How much time did you spend in America doing research?
Once a quarter, I came over for two to three weeks at a time. And since the second half of last year, it's more like once a month. One reason we went with the Japanese design was the timing. With both the new assembly plant issues and product development issues, Toyota had less time to leave responsibility with Calty (Toyota's California design studio). Calty did do the color, trim, seats and floor mats. But I don't think the truck looks Japanese. I think it's borderless.
Why go with a four-valve engine? Doesn't that sacrifice low-end torque?
Not really. We can configure the four-valve to maximize torque, horsepower and fuel efficiency much better than we could have with a three-valve and a pushrod.
Where did Toyota save money to be price competitive?
Since we build it in Indiana, we don't have to pay the 25 percent import-truck tariff anymore. And we don't have the shipping costs of the entire vehicle as well. By having more than 50 percent North American content, we don't have to pay the transportation costs of shipping all those parts from Japan. We're sourcing our aluminum, vinyl and plastic in America, where they are cheaper than in Japan.