Yesterday's Land Cruiser not only looks nothing like the modern version, but it is one of the most sought-after collectible SUVs. Expertly restored Land Cruisers from the 1970s often sell for $30,000 or more.
While Land Rover's Series and Defender get credit for conquering Africa, Australia and other inhospitable places, the ultrareliable Land Cruiser has long been the vehicle of choice in extreme terrain. Land Rover hopes the 2020 Defender gains back some of that turf.
Instead of euthanizing the venerable Land Cruiser, Toyota could solve two problems by recasting a next-generation model closer to nameplate's utilitarian roots.
Problem 1: The company never replaced the retro-styled 2007-14 FJ Cruiser.
Problem 2: Toyota would have an instant, credible competitor with global name recognition to Land Rover's new Defender, Ford's new Bronco and the current king of the hill, the Jeep Wrangler.
At the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum in downtown Salt Lake City, some 90 of the rugged all-terrain vehicles from almost every year are on display. The vehicles built in the 1960s to the early '80s, the FJ series, are some of the most popular, says the museum's executive director, David Wicai. "It was the first true cult vehicle for Toyota and one of the first Toyotas built for off-road capability and ruggedness," he says.
Last year the museum hosted about 8,000 visitors. Wicai believes if Toyota were to make a new-generation Land Cruiser into a more basic vehicle — but one available with a menu of creature comforts and safety features — Toyota would have a sizable hit. "We talk to people every day about this topic. We definitely believe there is room in the Toyota lineup for a vehicle like that and that it would be very successful," he said.
Toyota appears to have the underpinnings of a possible next-gen Land Cruiser in production with the Hilux pickup, which is about the right size. Hilux is sold in global markets outside the U.S.
If Toyota makes a new, four-wheel-drive Land Cruiser with a convertible top and/or removable hard top that looks modern — not retro — and prices it between $30,000 and $50,000, the Land Cruiser name could live on and perhaps soar to new heights.