The Toyota Tundra is turning 20 this summer and that’s certainly a milestone worthy of some attention. For starters, Tundra was first-ever full-size pickup truck built by a Japanese automaker in North America. It went into production in May of 1999 at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana, before moving to the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas plant in San Antonio in 2008. It’s still assembled there today and remains the only full-size pickup truck made in the Lone Star State.
Toyota’s look back at Tundra history starts in 1998 when it was unveiled at the Indiana State Fair when these words were spoken:
“Today marks the beginning of the launch of one of the most important vehicles ever introduced in the 41 years we’ve sold cars and trucks here in America,” said Don Esmond, who at the time served as Toyota Motor Sales group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. “It needed to be built in America because it needed to offer better value.” - 1998
Toyota says when production began 20 years ago, Tundra raised expectations for what full-size pickup trucks could do. Under the hood, it had the most sophisticated power-plant ever offered in its class, including the first double-overhead cam, 32-valve V8 in the segment. It was also the first V8 engine to achieve an L.E.V (low emission vehicle) emissions classification from the EPA. Its engine provided the strength to haul a maximum payload of nearly one ton, and pull a maximum towing capacity of 7,200 pounds depending on the model and level of equipment.
Out of this World
Towing capacity certainly came in handy several years later – when the space shuttle Endeavour needed a ride across the nation’s busiest freeway. In 2012, a stock Tundra CrewMax 4×4 with no special modifications towed the Endeavour and a custom-built dolly across a bridge spanning the 405.
The setup weighed 292,000 pounds and took about five minutes. The trip was part of the shuttle’s 12-mile journey from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center.
A Million Miles and Counting
We can’t talk about the Tundra without talking about durability and longevity, and well, Toyota can’t either. Toyota specifically points out 2007 Tundra owner Victor Sheppard. His Tundra was among the first of its kind manufactured at TMMTX, and he averaged about 125,000 miles of driving each year. By 2016, it had more than a million miles on the odometer.
When Toyota learned of the milestone, they offered Sheppard a new Tundra in exchange for his old one – so engineers could get a look under the hood and learn how the vehicle had held up after so many miles.
In 2018, a heroic ICU nurse ferried several people to safety through a deadly California wildfire in his Tundra. Allyn Pierce had safely evacuated the Camp Fire – the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history – when he got word that patients and coworkers were trapped at the hospital where he worked.
Pierce immediately turned his truck around – eventually making multiple round trips to get as many people out as possible. His Tundra survived too, although it suffered significant body damage. Toyota replaced Pierce’s Tundra as a thank you for his life-saving heroism.