DETROIT — Back in 2007, Toyota trumpeted its bulked-up Tundra as a game changer that would cut into Detroit’s dominance of the U.S. pickup market.
“The truck that’s changing it all” was the tagline from an ad that featured the beefy Tundra pulling a 10,000-pound trailer up a steep ramp.
After six years on the market, though, the Tundra hasn’t changed much of anything. Instead, Toyota learned that unlike car buyers, American pickup owners are still fiercely loyal to their Fords, Rams and Chevrolets, and that Detroit feverishly guards its lead in the high-margin truck business.
Toyota rolled its 2014 Tundra out at this month’s Chicago Auto Show, minus lofty sales goals. The new version goes on sale in September. The price and mileage haven’t been announced.
Alec Gutierrez, the senior market analyst for Kelly Blue Book, says Tundra won’t lure new buyers unless it costs less or offers compelling features to make it different.
Longtime Detroit buyers agree. Jon Carey, who co-owns a drywall business near Ann Arbor, hauls tools and building materials with two Rams purchased in 2006, and he sees no reason to switch.
“If you’re just talking apples-to-apples, in my opinion, they’ll never break into it,” Carey said of Toyota. “If they were giving the same price point, I don’t know that I would necessarily switch. There would have to be some real reason behind it.”
The 2014 Tundra has a tougher, squared-off look with a bolder grille and more aerodynamic exterior, a more comfortable interior and a long list of practical and luxury features, such as a blind-spot monitor and a standard backup camera.
Still, it lacks the type of changes Gutierrez hinted at. For instance, the choice of engines remains the same. General Motors, meanwhile, is offering more powerful and efficient motors with its new Chevy and GMC full-size pickups, which go on sale in the spring. At last month’s Detroit Auto Show, Ford gave a sneak peak of a new F-Series – due out next year – which it says will weigh far less to improve economy.
Instead, the world’s leader in auto sales seems happy to protect the Tundra’s 6 percent share of the big pickup market – especially when truck sales are rising as the economy recovers from the Great Recession. Gas mileage will be about the same as the current Tundra, 18-20 mpg on the highway. it says. Toyota’s U.S. sales chief, Jim Lentz, doesn’t expect to increase pickup market share.
“We’re very comfortable with what our volume is in that segment,” Lentz said.
Truck-buyer loyalty gives companies such as Ford – which started building pickups in 1925, 40 years before Toyota sold its first pickup in America – a real advantage. Last year, 36 percent of F-150 buyers traded in an F-150, according to Edmunds.com. That’s better than the loyalty rate for Toyota’s best-selling Camry sedan. Only about 28 percent of Tundra buyers traded in a Tundra last year.
Sales of large pickups rise and fall with the economy. The average pickup on U.S. roads is just over 11 years old. Pickup sales rose almost 25 percent in January.
Jeff Schuster, of consulting firm LMC Automotive, says Toyota still won’t be able to take sales from GM, Ford and Chrysler.
“They’ll be part of the recovery,” he says. “I don’t see them capturing any share from the Detroit guys.”