2023 Toyota Tacoma – Even in the midst of a pandemic, there’s one model that the car dealer Crown Toyota in Ontario, California, can’t hold on to: the Tacoma pickup. With just 10 days of truck delivery – in an industry where 60 days is considered ideal – most are already sold before being unloaded from the haulier. Toyota Motor Corp. has three North American factories cranking out Tacomas, but Crown chief executive Paxton Gagnet is constantly demanding more. “We pray every day, politely, politely,” Gagnet says. “It’s very difficult.”
2023 Toyota Tacoma Concept
Known as the Taco among its legions of loyalists, it is certainly not the latest model on the party. Toyota last gave it a full update four years ago. And it’s not the most refined either: Reviewers ding their rugged ride on the highway. But it’s a beast off-road, has Toyota vaunted for durability and a lot of team premium prices for used cars. This helps explain how it is outselling the onslaught of new competitors in the red hot US market for smaller trucks.
Tacoma’s midsize pickups by Ford F-Series are full-size trucks: the dominant player that has remained the best seller of its kind for the past 14 years. Sales, up 8% last month, have more than doubled in a decade, with even General Motors Co. fielded Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, Ford Motor Co. reviving the Ranger model and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV rolling out the Jeep Gladiator.
“The Taco is stalwart and unstoppable,” Auto and Driver magazine wrote a review of the 2020 model. “Potential buyers look at it, see 20 years and 300,000 miles of reliability, and sign up for financing.”
When Toyota looks at it, it sees a fine cow. The Japanese automaker is reaping dividends from sticking with it after rivals abandoned smaller pickups a decade ago, winning over buyers looking for something less than a half-ton truck. Toyota hopes to replicate this strategy for passenger cars as peers lift sedans in favor of crossovers, sports utility vehicles – and mid-size trucks.
The new generation of truck lifestyle enthusiasts have allowed the mid-size pickup segment to grow faster than the larger truck focused on the hard hat crowd. Researcher LMC Automotive predicts sales of this smaller truck will go to 762,740 in 2025, nearly three times more than in 2010.
The rush back in the segment with automakers, in turn, has fueled continued interest from unconventional truck buyers – and helped drive more business to Tacoma, says Bob Carter, Toyota’s North American executive vice president of sales.
“When Colorado came in, our volume increased. When the Ranger came, our volume increased,” Carter said. “Every time we’ve had more competition, our numbers are going up.”
Tacoma has maintained its leadership by turning to new adventure seekers: a weekend soldier who takes tours of the mountains or the beach. Many of these dudes – and they are mostly men, the source of 86% of tacoma sales – can be found on the sunny shores and snowy slopes of the Toyota Fortress in California. The model’s slogan says it all: “Built for an endless weekend.”
And buyers pay for them. Smaller pickups are once sold at rock-bottom prices to first time buyers. Now they’re raising the bottom line off the car that trick them out with elaborate entertainment systems and color-coordinated bash plates underneath to protect the meaty off-road power take-off. Tacoma starts at $ 26,150 for the utilitarian model, but can climb over $ 50,000 for a fully loaded TRD Pro. The Japanese company says half of all Tacomas sold in the United States include an optional TRD off-road package.
LMC Automotive expects Toyota to redesign the Tacoma 2022 and possibly catch-up with some of its new competitors’ high-tech touches, such as a tablet-sized touch screen with a dash. This could be planned with a plan to consolidate all production in Mexico from next year. But even with its old-school design, the Taco keeps ringing the bell.
“These are good spare vehicles,” said Jeff Schuster, head of global vehicle forecasting at LMC.
The story of two trucks
Tacoma’s success contrasts sharply with Toyota’s struggle to win mass appeal in its full-size Tundra, which competes with the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado and Fiat Chrysler’s Ram. Tundra has respectable sales in coastal regions and Sun Belt countries, but has never been a real player in the middle of a country where domestic brands emce.
The Tundra is not sideways, as buyers in the Midwest and many wheat belt states want the kind of tow brawl, payload stacks and decades-old nameplate loyalty that Toyota’s 20-year-old truck can’t offer.
Tacoma, which debuted in 1995, has not had to overcome obstacles such as the F-Series’ four-decade dominance. For starters, it was the age at which midsized rivals, including the first-generation Ranger, were about 10 years old. And Toyota stuck with it when the bottom fell out of the market in the early 2000s as buyers turned to larger trucks with more features. American automakers moved away from smaller trucks, preferring to chase fatter profits into larger rear gates.
“We stayed in the game when everyone jumped,” said Mike Sweers, Toyota’s executive chief engineer for pickups in North America, whose office wall in Ann Arbor, Michigan, features a giant illustration of Tacoma racing trucks. “We felt this market deserved attention and there was a strong following” for the pickup.
Tacoma’s staying power has a lot to do with efforts to make it tougher than the average midsized truck. Toyota engineers design parts such as the four-wheel drive transfer case to be 12 times more durable than their competitors, which resembles the specs used by the company’s global pickup sold in markets outside the United States.
“It’s based on a global standard,” Sweers said. “99% of customers, they will never reach that limit vehicle. But that’s what we built our reputation for.”
No Plain Vanilla
A reputation for credibility is another benefit: high resale value, which allows merchants to offer low rental rates. When Dennis Wiskus’s four-year-old Tacoma was together after being t-boned on a California highway in 2017, his insurance company gave him $ 32,000, just $ 5,000 less than he paid for it.
“So I marched right down to my Toyota dealer and said I wanted a new truck,” said a retired firefighter who bought an identical white Tacoma King Cab with an extended bed. “They hold their value.”
But Tacoma’s appeal goes beyond practicality and price. Analysts and auto critics praise their attribute, which is rare in Toyota products: its appearance.
“With cars like the Camry, Toyota is known for its very conservative style, very mainstream, basically vanilla,” Schuster said. “But Tacoma has always had a more aggressive style.”