But you’ve seen nothing like the new Tundra. Straight from the people who made hybrids hip comes a monster truck that will tow more than 10,000 lbs., promises to guzzle gas, and is built with one aim: taking full-size truck sales away from Nissan, Ford, GM, and Dodge. Revealed at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, the Tundra is arriving at dealerships now, built in the US, and, it seems, ready to put the Detroit 3 on notice: you can no longer expect your trucks to get the lion’s share of truck sales. From the looks of it, the only thing efficient about the Tundra is how it will sell in America’s robust truck market, and how it will handle truck-like chores such as pulling up stumps and towing trailers.
The Tundra is just the tip of the Toyota iceberg, and symbolizes the growing American identity of Japan’s top automaker. Indeed, few things are as American as big trucks – except, perhaps, for NASCAR. Toyota has already won the Craftsman Truck Series, and has now entered the Nextel Cup Series, as well. And while watching a Camry take a victory lap at Daytona may seem strange to some, it’s fitting, as next year Toyota will celebrate 50 years selling cars in America. Beginning in 1957, Toyota began selling vehicles here, and began manufacturing parts in 1972. In 1986, they expanded operations to manufacture vehicles in a joint venture with GM at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. in Fremont, California. The Camry, America’s top-selling car for the past four years, is built at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant. More than six million Camry models have been sold in the United States since its debut 23 years ago.
50 years in America
The investment has paid off handsomely, with a 34 percent increase in profits for its most recent fiscal quarter, as well as Toyota’s position as the third best-selling automotive brand in the US and fourth-largest automobile manufacturer. Most analysts say that within the next few years, Toyota may overtake GM as the number one automaker in the world. The success of this automaker is based, especially from a manufacturing perspective, on the Toyota Production System, and its philosophy of Kaizen, or “progress through steady improvement.” Or as Jim Press, Toyota Motor USA president said during an interview at the Chicago Auto Show, “"In our company, there are two planning processes, short-term and long-term. Short-term (means) in our lifetime." Part of that planning includes $12 billion in new manufacturing facilities, with a goal of raising U.S. sales by five percent this year. According to Victor Vanov, a spokesperson for Toyota Manufacturing North America, the investment reflects the company’s customer-first focus. “That’s what’s made us very successful,” said Vanov. “Our customers keep demanding things, and we listen to them. We know the markets we want to reach and we listen to our customers-take the new Camry, for instance. We listened and it’s a new global car that’s the product of that. We also believe in ‘localization’, or building vehicles where we sell them,” said Vanov. “It’s also quality and dependability. Team members can pull a cord and stop the line at any point to make a correction. We have more than 36,000 employees in America and the Center for Automotive Research on Cars found that there are some 400,000 spin-off jobs,” said Vanov. “Look at our new plant (Toyota’s second full-sized truck manufacturing facility) in San Antonio, Texas, which we broke ground for in 2003, and will formally open in 2006. One in seven pickup trucks are sold in Texas-it’s the heart of truck country. So, that’s where we’re now building the new Tundra.” Toyota will also build the Tundra in Indiana.
While racing Camrys in America is new, Toyota has participated for 24 years in American professional auto racing, throughout the United States, such as NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series. Some recent accomplishments are NASCAR victories at historic race tracks including Bristol and Richmond, along with wins at more modern raceways, such as Las Vegas and Texas. Other achievements include wins at the 2003 Indianapolis 500; the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring sports car classics; and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb; and the Baja 500 and the Baja 1,000. Additionally, Toyota’s engines have been the powerplant for Manufacturer’s and Driver’s championships in a variety of racing series -- including the IRL, CART, IMSA, SCORE, MTEG, CORR and the NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series. Racing in the NEXTEL Series will be part of an “overall marketing umbrella, where we are trying to reach a certain segment of the population,” said Unger. “Obviously, NASCAR is the most popular form of motorsports racing in the U.S.”
It would seem fitting, then, that the most popular car in America be a part of NASCAR, as Toyota celebrates 50 years of selling cars in America, and increases its commitment to make more cars here in the future, one that Toyota is increasingly positive about.
“People are living longer and driving longer,” said Press. “Baby Boomers are at 78 million strong, and they are alive and well and living to an average age of 77 plus. This generation grew up with the muscle car; they love the freedom that automobiles provide and won't give them up anytime soon,” said Press
“In fact, CNW Research notes that seven vehicles---more than half---of the 13 cars the average American buys over a lifetime, are purchased after the head of the household turns 50.When you realize that 60 percent of the US population will be 50 in the next five years--and that those same people control more than half of all consumer spending, you realize that a truly enormous opportunity lies ahead, ” said Press.
From the development of state-of-the-art technology, to racing and manufacturing in the US, it’s clear that Toyota has done its homework--at home, across the seas; and, at home, in the US -- where it celebrates five decades of investing, listening, building and engineering products that have captured an ever-growing vote of confidence in a land that loves the automobile. Soon 50, this Japanese automaker has spun gold in America-from its Camry to the Prius and the all-new Tundra.
Built in US: Toyota Avalon
Built in US: Toyota Camry
Built in US: Toyota Camry Hybrid
Built in US: Toyota Corolla
Built in US: Toyota Sequoia
Built in US: Toyota Sienna
Built in US: Toyota Solara
Built in US: Toyota Tacoma
Built in US: Toyota Tundra
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry and Toyota Motors USA