Toyota has been been doing a lot of groundbreaking lately. Last week, it opened its first U.S. V-8 engine plant, near Huntsville, Ala. And it will start work on a second U.S. plant to produce full-sized pickups, in San Antonio, this year.
But perhaps nothing will shake the earth more than Toyota's entry into that bastion of down-home, all-American motorsports, NASCAR.
Since its founding more than 50 years ago, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing has been a showcase for Detroit brands, with Fords, Chevrolets, Dodges, Pontiacs, Buicks, Plymouths, Mercurys, Chryslers and even Hudsons winning championships.
But next February, on the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, as many as six Toyota Tundra racers will make their competitive debut in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series, one of the sanctioning body's three competition levels.
The move will mark a giant step in the gradual 45-year Americanization of Japan's largest automaker. In sheer visibility to the public - NASCAR ranks only behind the National Football League in TV viewership by sports fans - it may be the biggest step.
It also will serve as a major marketing tool for Toyota's most American of pickups, the Tundra. Sales are expected to get a boost this fall when the Tundra Double Cab launches, and further volume gains are expected when the redesigned Texas-built Tundra debuts in 2006.