Toyota calls it "the single most important product in its history," which may seem like a stretch coming from a company that sells over 400,000 Camrys every year in the U.S., four times the volume of its full-size pickup sales.
But of course "full-size pickup" and "100,000 sales" are two elements of Toyota's U.S. product portfolio the corporate product strategists wish to redefine.
Before we get into the few specifics we can relate, though, we must first tell you about the Byzantine rules governing what we can't mention. In order to attend Toyota's official hands-on first-look first-drive preview held recently in Louisville, Kentucky, we had to swear a blood oath to maintain secrecy regarding many aspects of the Tundra family.
For example, although we drove several different Tundra models, we are sworn to secrecy regarding driving impressions -- until January 8. That's when Toyota will officially and publicly unveil the production Tundras at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, with sales due to begin in early February.
You may wonder how some mention of the Tundra's dynamic traits could compromise that presentation, which will be held in the confines of Detroit's Cobo Hall. We can't imagine either. But we know that if we utter one word about ride quality, acceleration, braking, or transient response before January 8 Toyota might have us shot. And even if that didn't happen, we might be required to shoot you. Can't have that, right?
Right. So here's the info we're at liberty to reveal.
4.0-liter V-6 (236 horsepower, 266 pound-feet of torque). Shared with the mid-size Tacoma, this robust six will be the standard engine in the regular cab Tundra.
4.7-liter V-8 (271 horsepower, 313 pound-feet of torque). The strongest engine available in the current Tundra, the 4.7 will become the middle offering in the new truck lineup.
5.7-liter V-8. Sorry, this falls under the Louisville Official Secrets compact. We can tell you this all-new engine will deliver a level of grunt that will rank at or near the top of the half-ton truck charts, with work ratings -- payload, towing (Toyota is willing to go on record with "over 10,000 pounds") -- that will be ditto. It will also show up in other future Toyota/Lexus truck products.
Two transmissions will be offered, both automatic -- the five-speed auto employed in the current Tundra, and a brand-new six-speed gearbox to go with the new 5.7-liter V-8. The latter will be unique in the full-size pickup world, at least for the time being.
As you'd expect, four-wheel drive will be an option.
Toyota is willing to admit to a longer wheelbase and an increase in overall length of 10 inches. This doesn't track throughout the lineup, in part because model designations differ between the current Tundra and its replacement, but this much is certain: the new Tundras will be distinctly bigger, particularly in models with four-door cabs and/or long cargo beds.
In all, the new Tundra line will embrace six body/bed configurations -- three cargo bed lengths, three cab styles. Toyota has officially released some preliminary specs on its Tundra standard cab and double cab models, which are generally wider than their predecessors, and much longer when paired with a long cargo bed or four-door cab. Wheelbases for long-bed editions are also much longer -- 164.6 inches for the double cab version, which is a little longer than a long-bed Ford F-series SuperCab.
There will be no cab-and-a-half version, a la the current Tundra Access Cab with its rear-hinged demi-doors. From standard cab the next step up is the double cab, with front-hinged rear doors. As you'd expect with expanded widths, there's more room inside -- four inches more shoulder and hip room, up front, according to Toyota. Toyota also claims that double cab rear seat passengers -- will enjoy three inches more shoulder room and six inches more hip room.
There's also more room in the cargo bed: 50 inches between the wheel wells, almost an inch more than the current Tundra, and 22.2 inches deep, almost the same as Ford's F-150, the truck that established the new deep-box trend.
On the topic of cargo beds, we should note one nifty new touch that Toyota is willing to reveal before January 8. The new Tundra's tailgate has hydraulic damping, so that it eases down when it's opened, rather than slamming to its stops with a crash. We predict this will become an industry standard as fast as the other players can copy it.
Perhaps you've noticed that all of the foregoing deals with just two of the cab styles -- standard and double? Right. There is another cab, but we're sworn to silence on that one. However, at the risk of censure from Toyota's Official Secrets squad, let's just say that this other model is going to make the Dodge Ram Mega Cab look almost normal.
After sneaking up on the full-size segment for some 14 years, it's clear that Toyota has finally internalized the essence of the American full-size pickup market: nice guys finish last. The 1993 T100 -- barely bigger than the Dodge Dakota of the day, with no V-8 engine option -- was a nice guy truck, something that's been true, to some degree, of all its descendants, including the current Tundra.
One look at the new Tundra is all it takes to get the message: "no more Mr. Nice Guy." Unlike Toyota's previous full-size pickup development teams, this one is composed almost entirely of U.S.-based personnel, most of them Americans. Product planning was initiated in Torrance, California, home of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., engineering development went forward at the Toyota Technical center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and all the styling, inside and out, was created by Toyota's Calty Research and Design operations in Ann Arbor and Newport Beach, California.
The look is nothing if not seriously butch, a macho presence Toyota hopes will appeal to "true truckers," i.e., people who use their trucks in connection with their livelihood -- people who have hitherto bought Chevy Silverados, Dodge Rams, GMC Sierras, and most of all, Ford F-series.
Building on the he-man look, look for Toyota's Tundra marketing effort to spin an all-American persona for this new truck, a campaign that will undoubtedly use the all-new production facility in San Antonio as one of its major touchstones. America is the land of the full-size pickup, and Texas is its high ground. Toyota did not go deep in the heart of Texas by chance.
All of this adds up to a high-stakes game for Toyota. We think the sales goals may be a little ambitious for a new full-size truck with an import brand name in a market softened by volatile fuel prices. But we'd be surprised if the new Tundra was anything less than successful.