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Toyota trucks stomp into the future

August 09, 2004|by TIM SPELL/Motor Matters

The company famed for the Camry - the "sensible shoes" among sedans - is pushing hard to make the "work boots" of its lineup a comfortable fit with consumers.

Toyota places both its full-size Tundra and compact Tacoma pickups front and center in terms of aggressive development and marketing strategies. The 2005 model year brings an updated Tundra and restyled, re-engineered, new-generation Tacoma.

To a large extent, these "work boots" come with Texas-style cowboy-boot flair. Toyota is building a Tundra plant in the heart of Texas - the world's largest full-size-truck market. Underway in San Antonio, the plant is scheduled to open in mid-2006 to begin production on new-generation 2007 Tundra pickups.

As hinted by the imposing FTX 4x4 concept truck, which has been strutting its stuff on this year's auto show circuit, the 2007 Tundra will boast generally larger dimensions. The FTX is 228 inches long, 82 inches wide, 77 inches tall and sets on a long 150-inch wheelbase. The current-generation Tundra Double Cab 4x4 is 230 inches long, 80 inches wide, 75 inches tall and rolls on a 140-inch wheelbase.

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A Toyota spokesman said heavier-duty three-quarter- and 1-ton versions of the new truck are possibilities. The company's focus is on both power and fuel efficiency, and a diesel engine also is under consideration. The FTX is powered by a V-8 hybrid gasoline-electric engine that Toyota reports delivers V-8 torque and V-6 fuel efficiency.

A campaign to stir the emotions of truck-proud Texans already is launched in the forms of 2004 Texas Special Edition Tundras and Tacomas, flaunting special badging, wheels, side step bars and a stainless-steel exhaust tip.

In the same manner in which the Tundra FTX concept truck appeared to spotlight bigger and better things to come for Tundra, a 2005 Tacoma, show truck with an aggressive attitude also was unleashed on this year's auto show circuit. Branded X-Runner, this sport truck is a bad-boy performance vehicle, ripe for the picking by youthful Gen-Y consumers looking to make a powerful statement on the streets.

The FTX concept and X-Runner show truck are "strategically inseparable," said Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. This strategy also is the most powerful example of two Toyota vehicles being deliberately developed to complement each other.

The X-Runner is what Esmond said is the "real deal," and clearly outlines the direction Toyota is going with the 2005 Tacoma. Just as the FTX forecasts Tundra's "bigger" future, the X-Runner indicates the next-generation Tacoma is up-sizing.

Compared to the current Tacoma, the X-Runner rolls on a wheelbase stretched more than 5 inches and a track widened by 4 inches. These changes translate to an additional 4.5 inches of shoulder and hip room. Importantly for young buyers looking for an edgy ride, the X-Runner has the appearance of a ready-to-race street machine and the performance to back it up.

The truck's name comes from an "X-braced" reinforced frame that boosts torsional rigidity for better stability and handling during aggressive driving. Complementing the beefed-up frame are firmer, shorter springs and specially tuned Bilstein gas shocks positioned outboard of the frame rails.

Enhancing both looks and performance, the X-Runner sits an inch lower on hefty, speed-rated 45-series V-rated tires centered with five-spoke alloy wheels. Benchmarked to the performance standards of Nissan's 350Z sports car, Toyota reports the X-Runner handles in excess of 0.9 gs lateral acceleration.

This muscle truck is powered by a 4.0-liter V-6 engine delivering 240 horsepower and 275 lbs.-ft. of torque. A factory-warranted supercharger will be available that boosts horsepower to about 300. The supercharged kick shaves more than a second off the X-Runner's 7-second 0-60-mph time. Cosmetically, the X-Runner is enhanced with a hood scoop, integrated fog lamps and wraparound ground effects.

Esmond said all 2005 Tacomas will feature greater towing capacity, more cargo and passenger-hauling capability, a variety of body and bed configurations, and enhanced safety features such as standard ABS brakes and available side-curtain air bags.

While a new-generation Tacoma is anticipated, sales of 2004 models are steady. In June, 12,891 units were sold for a 0.1 percent sales improvement over previous-month sales. Tundra's June sales were 8,901 units, which was a 1.4 percent increase.

Expect more positive Toyota truck news, including details on 2005 model upgrades, in early September. Toyota plans for the work boots of its lineup to be stomping a wider, more deeply entrenched path through the highly competitive pickup market.




Tim Spell is automotive writer for the Houston Chronicle Cars & Trucks section.

© Motor Matters, 2004

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