The Toyota Tundra pickup isn't having a bad year — sales were up 1.6 percent through November — but it isn't having a great year, either; pickup sales across the industry are up 4.1 percent.
Nearly 20 years after Toyota introduced what was then a much smaller Tundra to U.S. consumers, Toyota's full-size pickup remains stuck in fifth place in its segment, still ahead of the long-struggling Nissan Titan, but far behind offerings from Ford, General Motors and FCA US.
The main reason for that lagging position, Toyota Motor North America leaders say, is the continued success of the smaller Tacoma. But as Toyota ramps up Tacoma production in Mexico, that will allow for more Tundra output in Texas.
"We made some choices ... of full-on capacity — what we would be able to build," said Jack Hollis, Toyota Division general manager. "We made some choices as a business entity to push ... Tacoma. That's the fact of the business."
Toyota has sold 224,128 midsize Tacoma pickups this year through November, compared with 107,042 Tundras.
Toyota's U.S. sales boss, Bob Carter, put it more succinctly.
"It's capacity. San Antonio is at maximum capacity, maximum overtime. We worked 46 Saturdays last year. We are choosing — because it's our strength — to build a higher mix of Tacoma than Tundra," Carter told Automotive News this month. "I have no announcements today, but it's not a great surprise if you look at the lineup, that Tundra may be in the latter stages of its life cycle. But that will change. We have a plan underway."
The Tundra is the oldest full-size pickup sold in the U.S., having received its last major updates in 2014. But while Hollis argues Tundra's lack of sales "give us the greatest opportunity" when capacity issues are eased in San Antonio, Carter says he has no illusions of one day jostling with the Detroit 3 for the top spots in the segment.
"Some of the competitors are doing 700,000, 800,000, 900,000 units. If your ultimate question is, is that our plan? No. We have no aspirations, no plans to compete at that volume. Can we do better than we're doing today? Absolutely," Carter said. "We can do better than that, but it's not in our plan to be running some of the fantastic volumes that Ford, Chevy and Ram are developing."
Said Hollis: "There's clearly a demand that we can increase the amount of Tundras. Will we increase the amount of Tundras? Yes. But I will say, it will always come down to what are the consumers and dealers asking us for, and that's what we will respond to."