The jury is still out among Autoblog readers regarding the Tundra's expected impact on the American light-truck market (Check back at 11AM for our poll results), but I'd like to use the bully pulpit to throw down my $0.02. Click through to get my thoughts and analysis on what we know about this potentially huge introduction to one of the most important U.S. segments.
First and foremost, I think that the minimal impact of the previous generation Tundra (as well as the non-event that was the Ridgeline's first year) should make it clear that size is everything. There were some that pointed towards the previous Tundra's quality interior as reason that it should have been more popular, and others are claiming that the rather odd styling of the '07 Tundra's interior will prevent its success. The truck market didn't buy into the first supposition, though, and I don't think that a weird IP and center stack will make much different in '07. Here, we're going to be looking to see interior dimensions at least as large as the current GM full-size trucks, with "perceived" size also being highly critical. If the interior measurements reflect the increase in exterior dimensions, buyers will indeed view this as a "real" full-size truck.
What can we expect from the Tundra's 5.7L iForce V8? A horsepower number of 325 has previously floated around, but if that's the best Toyota can do, I think it'd be wise to go home right now. Both GM and Dodge offer up 345 HP right now, and both are capable of pulling the trigger on another 60-80 HP if an arms race breaks out. Nissan buyers are getting an underrated 305 HP, and Ford... well, I think the Blue Oval guys will be looking at forced induction if more oomph is required.
I believe that Toyota will need to bring at least 350 HP to the market in the first year, with plans in place to go to 400 HP if the market demands such action. Simply increasing the horsepower of the 4.7 proportional to displacement will not accomplish the task at hand (that'd yield less than 330 HP). Toyota's recent V6 and V8 passenger car offerings suggest the company knows how to make power, and it'd be really interesting to see what the introduction of something like direct injection would do to the pickup market (DI is great at improving torque across the rev range). Rumor has it that a diesel from Toyota's Hino division will follow in a few years with more than 700 lb-ft of torque, which is where the Big 3 will likely be at that time.
The rest of the drivetrain will be just as important. We've heard that a "heavy-duty" six-speed auto will be available; a manual also needs to be offered behind the V8s, seeing as how this is one market segment where such a transmission still enjoys a bit of popularity (roughly 20% of the light trucks sold in the US are of the row-your-own sort). I swear I heard Jim Press mention a "ten-and-a-half inch rear axle" during the intro, which would put Toyota on par with what are offered in other 3/4-ton trucks. The vehicle shown in Chicago certainly didn't have that large of a rear axle, however (see below). I'd love to see a standard limited-slip out back, but I'm not holding my breath. There's no word yet on what size the front diff will be, but I believe that current Tundras have an 8" high-pinion pumpkin up front, which should be adequate for a half-ton (a 9" or larger front diff would be appropriate for a 3/4-ton).
The execution of the chassis won't be quite as obvious to buyers as things such as interior room and engine power, but have no doubts that it's critical. Note the five-lug wheels; six lugs are standard for half-ton 4x4 trucks, and even though five may work well, the American truck market will not be tolerant of the "just-enough-is-perfect" style of Japanese engineering. The front suspension looks plenty beefy, with coil-over shocks and lower control arms fabricated from sheet steel and castings (potentially allowing them to be stronger and/or lighter than cast iron or cast aluminum). Gotta love the beefy front brakes with their four-piston calipers.
As silly as it may seem in an overpowered vehicle with the aerodynamics of a brick, fuel economy (both EPA ratings and real-world numbers) will be very important to prospective buyers. GM is the one to beat here, as the current Tundra's 16/18 EPA performance (with the 4.7/5sp auto) is about on par with GM's 15/19 EPA rating for the Silverado 1500 (5.3/4sp auto). Topping the established players with both power and economy would be quite the accomplishment.
What about domestic content? Toyota is said to be making extensive use of parts sourced from North America at its new San Antonio plant, and if indeed the company can convince buyers that this truck is every bit as "American" (or more so) than the competition, then the market may respond very positively towards that. On the other hand, if this is viewed as a foreign vehicle, Toyota faces an uphill battle. I see a difficult marketing task ahead for Toyota's ad wizards.
The bottom line here is that there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but I see little so far that reveals a lack of homework on Toyota's behalf. GM's new GMT900 platform leaves a few unknowns as well, and as such any definitive determination of the light-truck rankings will have to wait until this time next year (although Press hinted that we might see the Tundra's schedule pulled ahead by several months). Much is made of loyalty amongst the truck-buying public, but how many domestic truck owners have a Toyota passenger car in the driveway? My take on this is that Toyota stands an excellent chance at stealing a significant number of sales away from the Big Three.