Jim Press: Camry and Tacoma owners are moving up to full-sized pickups.
"The truck market is really key to our future growth, especially large pickups," says Toyota COO Jim Press. "We are upgrading the content of our vehicles, improving the style and reducing our costs substantially."
Toyota is reinventing its full-sized Toyota Tundra pickup, which it will build at a plant in San Antonio that is scheduled to open next year.
At last month's Chicago Auto Show, the automaker unveiled its Toyota FJ Cruiser, which is aimed at young men. The SUV will reach the market in about a year with an annual sales goal of about 40,000 units.
Both Toyota and Lexus have expanded their truck lines in recent years. Toyota introduced the Tacoma Double Cabin fall 2000 and Highlander SUV in 2001. Lexus added the eight-seat GX SUV in late 2002.
On April 15, Lexus will introduce the first luxury hybrid SUV, the RX 400h, a version of its popular RX330. Toyota Division is adding the hybrid gasoline-electric Highlander SUV in June.
Toyota was the first Japanese automaker to understand the importance of the truck segment and invest in product development, says George Peterson, president of the AutoPacific consulting firm in Tustin, Calif.
Peterson says the next-generation Tundra will be "more macho" and in a better position to compete with Big 3-built trucks.
Susan Jacobs, president of the Jacobs & Associates auto consulting firm in Rutherford, N.J., says Toyota has unrealized potential in trucks.
Toyota had 23.1 percent of the U.S. market for small pickups last year.
Jacobs says the automaker "has the credibility to build its volume" in full-sized pickups from its current share of 4.6 percent.
Toyota Camry sedan and Tacoma small-pickup owners are moving up to full-sized pickups, Press says.
"With the next Tundra, we need to come out with a product that will retain them," he says.
Jim Lentz, Toyota Division's group vice president of marketing, says the automaker regionalizes its advertising strategy for full-sized pickups.
Consumers in the Kansas City area are much less familiar with Toyota trucks than their counterparts in Los Angeles, he says. As a result, the automaker emphasizes test drives in Kansas City to expose potential buyers to its trucks, Lentz says.
Truck ads missed mark
Toyota Division's truck advertising sputtered last year when it aired a TV spot that included the automaker's entire SUV line.
Lentz concedes the tactic "wasn't very successful."
The automaker doesn't need more truck models, Press says. Instead, he says, "We really need to do the best job we can with the trucks we have."