Open Road

The Toyota Land Cruiser is on life support

Should the company pull the plug?

Toyota isn't a brand known for putting out vehicles it can't sustain, but the Land Cruiser seems to serve as an exception to the rule. While the high-end SUV saw a refresh for the 2016 model year, it hasn't seen a full redesign in nearly a decade. Even so, it remains a premium model left behind by a manufacturer whose eye for luxury has shifted to the Lexus brand. That's left the Toyota Land Cruiser out in the cold, and rightfully so.

With a starting price of nearly $85,000, the Toyota Land Cruiser is far out of the financial reach of the average Toyota customer. Notably, the Range Rover starts at around $86,000. With a price tag like that, the old 4x4 SUV is better off with a spot in the Lexus LX line, but it isn't receiving any love from Toyota executives. A lack of marketing certainly isn't helping the Land Cruiser either.

The full-size SUV puts a large emphasis on comfort, no matter what sacrifices have to be made. Even so, reviewers generally agree that the cabin, particularly the rear seats, are far from spacious. Competitors like the Chevrolet Suburban offer more space, better features, and a more affordable price tag to boot.

Take a look at the luxury-level GMC Yukon, for example. The American SUV starts at under $49,000 MSRP and offers up to 94.7 cu ft. of interior cargo space. It can even seat up to nine passengers thanks to its roomy three-row seating. It's easy to see just how lackluster the Toyota Land Cruiser is in comparison.

It wasn't always this way though. The first Toyota Land Cruiser hit the market in 1951, making it Toyota's longest running nameplate. Since it first rolled off the production line, the Land Cruiser has appeared as a convertible, station wagon, and, most recently, an SUV, among others. In Japan, the Land Cruiser is only available in special Toyota dealerships called "Toyota Store." That level of prestige didn't transfer to the United States though.

The Toyota Land Cruiser experienced an immediate jump in popularity after its initial redesign in 2008, but quickly saw faltering sales the next year. The SUV hit an all-time low with just 1,662 units sold in 2011. Sales eventually stabilized in the following years, generally hovering between 2,800 and 3,200 units per year.

Toyota executives, engineers, and designers finally took pity on the 65-year-old nameplate and gave it a much-needed refresh in 2016. That brought sales to the highest point since 2008, with 3,705 units sold during the 2016 model year.

At this point, the Land Cruiser's sales numbers are comparable to the Chevrolet SS, a performance sedan that's leaving the production line for good following the 2017 model year. In a market where buyers are snapping up SUVs as soon as they roll off the line, the Land Cruiser isn't doing too hot. At least it's still doing better than the Dodge Viper...

There are three options available for the fate of the Toyota Land Cruiser: restore, merge, and kill.

The first option is to restore the Land Cruiser to its former glory as one of the most reveled off-road SUVs in the industry. Returning to a Jeep-like design with more off-roading equipment would help draw drivers away from lower-priced competitors. This would require a full redesign and would likely result in a price increase, something the Land Cruiser certainly doesn't need.

Alternatively, the Toyota Land Cruiser could merge into the Lexus LX family as a base model. Adjusting the interior design to free up some space while simultaneously adding more premium materials and advanced technologies would allow the Land Cruiser to live on as a legitimate luxury SUV.

The final option is to put the Toyota Land Cruiser out of its misery. The SUV has been around since 1951, making it the brand's oldest nameplate. As the sales numbers suggest, the Land Cruiser hasn't aged well, and it doesn't look like things will be turning around any time soon.

As a whole, Toyota SUVs are selling like hot cakes with a recent corporate sales report indicating consistent growth throughout the lineup. The Toyota Highlander posted its best-ever February, as did the RAV4 and 4Runner. Even the Toyota Sequoia, another high-end SUV, saw a dramatic sales increase for the month of February.

The Toyota Land Cruiser, however, is nowhere to be found, indicating that the legendary SUV is likely out of touch with the modern consumer. Perhaps it's best to say "Sayonara" to Toyota's oldest nameplate. It doesn't seem as though many people will miss it at this point.

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