The Toyota Land Cruiser — a global icon for off-roading enthusiasts with a lineage that stretches back to postwar Japan and a small but dedicated customer base — will end its 63-year run in the U.S. after the current model year.
But that doesn't mean the automaker is ceding the luxury large-SUV space. It's just that whatever the Land Cruiser's spiritual successor ends up being, there's a decent chance it's going to crawl and climb with a Lexus badge on its grille.
"The Toyota Land Cruiser has been a legendary name for more than 60 years," Toyota Motor North America said in a statement. "While it will be discontinued in the United States after the 2021 model year, we remain committed to the large-SUV segment and will continue to explore future products that celebrate the Land Cruiser's rich off-road history. We encourage loyal enthusiasts and intrepid adventurers to stay tuned for future developments."
The Land Cruiser — developed in Japan in 1951 as a localized answer to the Willys Jeep — is Toyota's longest-running model line and is inexorably tied to Toyota since its very first days in the U.S. According to Toyota, in its first year in the U.S. in 1958, the company sold 288 Toyota Toyopet sedans and exactly one Land Cruiser.
Sales have ebbed and flowed in the intervening decades in the U.S. as other rugged overlanders have proliferated. The $86,880 starting price (including shipping) of the two- or three-row body-on-frame SUV also is higher than that of many competitors. Still, the Land Cruiser, imported from Japan, retains a global following as well as a consistent U.S. sales record. Over the past 15 years in the U.S., dealers have sold an average of 2,979 Land Cruisers per year, with a high of 3,801 in 2008 and a low of 1,662 in 2011. In 2020, Toyota sold 3,147 Land Cruisers.
Jack Hollis, head of automotive operations at Toyota Motor North America, told Automotive News last month that the sudden popularity in off-road adventuring brought on, in part, by the pandemic has every brand staring off the pavement for opportunities.
"What we have seen at Toyota is that there's so much of an appetite for [off-roading] that I see that [moving into] the Lexus brand as well," Hollis said. "There is an appetite, a customer desire, a customer push to see all brands giving them more options. I think it would be silly for Lexus not to travel down that path."