There are few car companies – if any – that understand its target market as well as Toyota does. They just don’t miss their mark very often. But when they do, it’s fascinating to watch how they deal with the occasional failure.

When Toyota first entered the full-sized truck market, they indeed missed the mark. The T100 was a very good truck, but it wasn’t a critical or a sales success. It was too small, too tinny, underpowered and underwhelming. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief in Detroit when they saw the T100 was off its target, but not by much.

Those folks in Motown shouldn’t have taken too much ease though. Toyota is a company that has found great success in the Deming methodology of incremental improvement. When they came back with the first Toyota Tundra it was like watching a skilled artillery officer walking his rounds closer to the target.

The first Tundra lobbed in as a 2000 model and landed just shy of the target, again. While not a runaway success, people began to notice how the larger, tougher and more powerful truck was gaining market share and for the first time, the Big Three had some real competition in the full-sized truck market.

Toyota’s legendary quality also began to capture converts, yet the Tundra was still just shy of being an actual full-sized contender. It was a welterweight trying to slug it out with the heavyweights. The Big Three still had the advantage of market share and the most loyal customer base in the world.

At the same time, fellow Asiatic contender Nissan entered the market with the Titan and everyone in Detroit started to look over their shoulders. They knew the next shot fired by Toyota would not miss.

The folks in Detroit responded to the sounds of footsteps by embarking on the biggest reinvestment into their truck lineups in history. Ford, GM and Chrysler stepped up their game like never before and began raising the bar for quality, power and reliability in hopes of maintaining their pieces of the very big, very profitable sales pie.

For its third shot, Toyota put the market on notice that they would not miss. The manufacturer invested millions of dollars to build a brand-spanking new truck factory deep in the heart of the pick-up market: San Antonio, Texas. There they began checking off the boxes on what a full-sized truck needs: They checked the elevation, adjusted for wind and yelled FIRE!

Simply put: Bull’s-eye.

The newest Tundra was introduced with much fanfare, rave reviews and sleepless nights in Detroit where suddenly Toyota and Nissan had legitimate full-sized trucks ready to go toe-to-toe with the big boys.

The Tundra delivered to Any Driven Sunday was one good looking truck: Big, four-door Crew Max 4×4 short bed, black on black with blacked-out grill, and a lifted off-road Rock Warrior package. When I saw it coming around the corner my first reaction was, “Hello, Handsome!”

Lift kit, knobby tires, and modular wheels, just like you might customize a truck after you buy it. Not a bad idea at all. Nissan had sent me a “No Fear” Titan a couple of years ago and I really liked the package they had put together. The Titan’s stance was elevated but the truck still had to be a real truck, and this is.

The interior was dark charcoal cloth and was dripping with optional gear, including a nifty rear cabin window that rolls down, but the thing that I really liked was the placement of Toyota’s back up camera display. I know it’s kind of sad how car manufacturers assume drivers don’t know how to drive and put in safety devices to protect them from themselves, but this one is pretty cool. The rear bumper view is projected in the rearview mirror and is just a smart way to deal with it, really.

You can get into a basic, two-wheel drive, regular cab 6 cylinder for around $24,000.00, and as you ad on bits, the price rolls right up to the $44,000.00+ Rock Warrior CrewMax level. The engine is fantastic and it’s closer to the estimated EPA consumption numbers of 18/24 mpg than most full-sized trucks in the market are.

Part of Toyota’s marketing push into the most American of markets has included getting involved in NASCAR truck racing. The Tundra Racing program, ironically, does not use the same multi-valve V8 as the production truck. The reason for that is how the engine is too modern for NASCAR. In order to compete, the racing division had to retro-engineer a pushrod carbureted engine, something Toyota has never made.

This Tundra is a case study in knowing your market. As Toyota dialed-it-in, the result has just not been a great production truck from them, but their entry into the full-sized truck market has had the residual effect of pushing the other options to be better in response.

This year Nissan is bringing out its first replacement for the Titan, something that has been long delayed, which makes this segment of the truck market something to watch intently.

At this telling, Toyota has not yet moved into the Heavy Duty market, but don’t assume they can’t or won’t. They have a number of Diesel engines at their disposal from the European and Australian Land Cruiser’s and commercial truck lines from subsidiary Hino. As they incrementally move their aim closer and closer to their market sweet-spot, don’t be surprised if they drop one of these in a new Tundra soon

The Tundra is indeed a legitimate contender in the truck market, and it’s an option that I would have to take very seriously if I was looking at a 1/2 ton truck. The only thing is, don’t expect to find a used one for a good price as they maintain their resale value like nothing else in the business.

A few months ago, I started looking at options for a personal vehicle. The Tundra is one I have on my list of vehicles, but at this point I can’t find one that has depreciated to the point I can afford to purchase. I found one that was three years old and the asking price was over 75% of its original price. With almost 100,000 miles on the clock they still were asking that much. I guess that helps prove the point that the Tundra is a desirable option – even used.

Having driven all of the options in this marketplace, Ford, GM, Dodge, Nissan and the Toyota Tundra, any customer would be well served to try it out to see how close to their purchase target Toyota has managed to hit.

As a company Toyota has shown how patient they are and how they deal with missing the target. They didn’t panic, just simply looked at all the data, adjusted their aim and zeroed in closer and closer. The Tundra is a direct hit on full-sized truck market.


2 Responses to “Any Driven Sunday: The Tundra is a Contender”
  1. John says:

    I currently drive and F-250 – I might have to start looking at the Tundra for my next truck after seeing this on the toyota website -

  2. Jim Muise says:

    John. That is a cool link. The tundra was a super useable and fun truck. The options can be overwhelming so take your time and try one.

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