Last year 324,222 Canadians bought a large pickup, virtually all of them from a Detroit-based automaker. Why, you might ask, do Nissan and Toyota even try to compete with the likes of FCA’s Ram pickup, the Ford F-Series and General Motors’s twins, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra?
I mean, Nissan is currently doing somersaults over its new Titan, boasting about the available Cummins diesel powertrain and the rugged outdoorsy-ness of its reinvented full-size rig’s looks. So what? At the end of the day, Nissan in a year will as many pickups as Detroit sells in a couple of weeks.
Toyota has been trying to crack the full-size market for decades, even going so far as to build what turned out to be a massively over-budget pickup plant in Texas, the very heart of pickup-land in the USA. Toyota hoped its new plant would be needed to provide enough trucks to meet massive demand for the Tundra.
But it was not to be. In what is surely one of Toyota’s more embarrassing failures, sluggish Tundra sales have forced Toyota to pushed midsize Tacoma production into the Texas plant to make up for the Tundra’s showroom shortfalls.
And Honda? Honda tiptoed into the pickup field with the Ridgeline, a stunning collection of compromises that pleased only car buyers searching for the return of something like Chevy’s old El Camino or Ford’s Ranchero – car/pickups aimed at suburbanites who liked to wear cowboy boots and listen to country music in the ‘60s and 70’s.
If you drove an El Camino or a Ranchero, you were likely the site boss at a construction project, and the only thing you’d ever roped was a tie-down to keep junk in the bed during a trip to the city dump. And if you’ve driven a Ridgeline, it’s because you have gone kicking and screaming into the pickup world. You’re heart is with Accords, Civics and CR-Vs.
Nissan, Toyota and Honda have all in relative terms failed miserably to understand North American pickup buyers. This has been stunning to watch for two decades or more. Despite spending enormous resources trying to dig deep into the unique wants and needs of pickup owners in Canada and the U.S., Japan’s Big Three continue to flail and fail.
My feeling is that all three are overwhelmed by the complexity of the pickup buyer who on the surface seems like a rube or a hick, a Donald Trump supporter. But deep down, the pickup buyer is very complex, well-informed and even sophisticated when it comes to his or her rig.
These buyers take months to research their next pickup purchase. They demand a mainstream vehicle that is incredibly versatile, that can do everything from tow a big trailer to haul heavy loads, all with grace and durability. They wanted engine and transmission choices, 20-year durability and lately, pickups have also morphed into sometimes-luxury rides, too.
In the case of Toyota and Nissan, the corporate thinking seems to have focused on size and design language that is as in-your-face as possible. And to give them credit, both have also tried to expand their range of offerings and options – engine choices, body styles, cab choices, towing packages, bed lengths and the like.
Toyota, for instance, in response to the all-new Titan and the continuing excellence of Detroit’s pickups, has done a remake of the Tundra for 2016. Toyota Canada now offers 10 different versions of the Tundra, from 4×2 to 4×4 to regular cab, to double cab, to a CrewMax with enough cabin room for a couple to go square dancing. Engines? Two gasoline V-8s, a 5.7-litre (381 horsepower/401 lb-ft torque) and 4.6 (310 hp/327 lb-ft of torque, both mated to a fairly uninspiring six-speed automatic gearbox.
My bet is that if you are a current Toyota owner, if you have a Camry sedan or a RAV4 or Highlander sport-utility, the Tundra has some appeal. The Tundra feels like a very big Toyota. Monstrous, in fact. And the design disguises its Toyota-ness enough to leave casual observers thinking they’re looking at a pickup from Detroit.
But the Tundra does not hang its hat on the sorts of things Detroit touts. Unlike Ford’s F-Series, the Tundra does not have an aluminum body or an EcoBoost turbocharged/direct injection powertrain. The design doesn’t slap you in the face, like the Ram. And it doesn’t trade on V-8 engines that shut down some cylinders at certain times to improve fuel economy, like the Silverado and Sierra. Ford, GM and FCA will not be running comparison ads, pitting their pickups against the Tundra.
Still, all Tundras come standard with a pretty robust tow package and prices start at $29,035 for the 4×2 with a regular cab and a long bed. The line tops out at $56,845 for the Tundra 4×4 CrewMax platinum with its 4,305 kg (9,490 lb) towing capacity, undersized 5.5-foot bed and lots of fancy features.
The Tundra is a perfectly good gasoline pickup. If you’re a Camry lover, you will be impressed, except for this: in the latest three-year J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study, the Sierra, Silverado and Ram were the highest-ranked light duty pickups.
So Toyota, a brand that trades on quality, hasn’t even managed to pass the Detroit Three on dependability. Yes, why do Toyota, Nissan and Honda even bother with full-size pickups?