Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled its refreshed 2014 Tundra last Thursday in the increasingly competitive pickup truck market.
The new Tundra faces a big hurdle: Pickup buyers are among the most loyal in the auto industry and it’s hard to pry the keys out a Chevy, Ford or Ram pickup owner and convince them to swap them for a new brand.
“The segment is very competitive,” said Mike Sweers, the Tundra’s chief engineer based in Michigan.
The 2014 Tundra shown at the Chicago Auto Show has fancier interiors and new exterior styling with a higher hood, a new tailgate, and more trim levels — including separate top trim level for urban and heartland buyers, Sweers said. Toyota describes it as having a “rugged, high-tech look.”
Engineered by the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, it will be built in San Antonio and will go on sale in September.
Its introduction comes just after General Motors Co. unveiled its completely redesigned 2014 full-size trucks. Chrysler already has started selling a new Ram that swept top awards including North American Truck of the Year.
Ram chief Fred Diaz said in an interview, “We’re in the market before everyone else. And even when Toyota and GM come to market, when you look at what we have, I think we are ready to do battle.”
Also, at last month’s Detroit auto show, Ford Motor Co. showed off a concept of its future F-150, and Nissan Motor Co. plans a redesign for its Titan pickup, its first major revamp since 2003.
Doug Scott, Ford’s truck group marketing manager, said the automaker has about 8 million U.S. truck owners and is aggressive about retaining its title as the truck sales leader with the F-Series for 36 years.
He said few buyers opt to change brands. “If you think you’re going to make your business by conquesting other people’s customers, you’re in for a big surprise,” Scott said. “Even as successful as we are, conquesting’s tough in full-size pickup. Loyalty is the key to our success.”
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told Ram to shoot for a world-class truck, Diaz said. “Essentially he told us, ‘Boys go big or go home. The hell with this little minor mid-cycle refresh that we are were going to do,” Diaz recalled.
The full-size pickup segment is one of the most profitable — it generates around $8,000 to $10,000 per vehicle — and accounts for a huge chunk of U.S. automakers’ profits.
Sales fell sharply from a high of 2.5 million vehicles in 2005 to 1.1 million in 2009 as the housing market collapsed. Pickup sales are heavily dependent on the construction industry.
Last year, full-size pickup sales rose to more than 1.6 million and Toyota expects they will again hit 1.8 million by 2015; Chrysler thinks annual sales could hit 2 million in the next few years.
“It’s a segment that we see rebounding,” Toyota’s Sweers said. “There’s a lot of volume out there for many different models. … We made a significant investment in the new truck.
“Do we expect to be number one?” Sweers asked. “No, we don’t.”
Tundra sales rose 23 percent in 2012 to 101,621. The Tundra’s market share has fallen in recent years, from 9.7 percent in 2007 to 6.2 percent in 2012.
The Tundra hasn’t been redesigned in six years, and it will carry over the same engine into the new 2014 model.
Toyota hasn’t announced pricing for the new Tundra.
Toyota still offers a compact truck, the Tacoma. Bill Fay, Toyota’s group vice president and general manager of Toyota Division, noted “most of our competitors have abandoned the compact market.”
Fay acknowledged the full-size segment “has typically been one of the most loyal in the industry.”
That makes it tough for companies to dislodge owners of Ford, Ram and Chrysler trucks, but some “are taking the opportunity to change brands,” Fay said.