By Patrick Hoey
A recall is sometimes a necessary evil in the automotive industry, well, actually manufacturing in general. It’s one of those things that is inevitable but you just don’t know when or where it will strike. If you’re fortunate, the launch of a new vehicle will trigger only minor recalls that won’t attract too much attention. Toyota was hoping the launch of their new Tundra would follow this script.
The Tundra was deemed Toyota’s “most important product launch ever.” With that in mind, you have to take into account that the truck market is a very different ballgame then the car market, loyalties are strong and deep and sales go to the perceived toughest kid on the block.
When Toyota introduced the all-new Tundra, they didn’t make any friends in the industry, or in the domestic truck-buyer population; in fact, it is safe to say that there are a lot of people hoping and praying that this truck will fail. For these people, there has been an answer to their prayer, and it lies within the brawny 5.7 liter V8 by means of flawed camshafts. Gasp! This is, well, sort of a big deal. Because of this, Toyota may have to replace 30,000 engines, and at $5,000 a pop, they are looking at a $150,000,000+ tab. While it is still unclear if the situation will require replacing all 30,000 engines, the lingering memories will probably haunt Toyota in the truck market for awhile.
While a truck is a means of transportation, just as any automobile, it is also depended upon as a necessary piece of equipment to millions of owners. In a market that depends upon reliability, there is little room, if any, for error. When you have Ford claiming their trucks are “Built Ford Tough” and the Silverado has been referred to as “Like a Rock”, what can Toyota say? “Just-Big-Talk”? Because to be honest, that’s all I have seen and heard, big talk, followed by weak results.
The Tundra received a 4-Star crash rating while the domestics are sporting 5-Stars. Between its massive stature and the deep-voice narration in the commercials, I expected it to be half a tough as it looks. They sure fooled me, that is, until I heard it lacked a fully boxed frame. Now, I am not saying a truck is incompetent without a fully boxed frame, in fact, it is something that domestic truck makers just picked up themselves in recent years, but there is no doubt that the fully boxed frame is a better and stronger design. This isn’t the reason that caused the Tundra to fall behind it’s creator’s expectations, but it didn’t help when added to the rest of the list, including the aforementioned engine issues.
The Tundra’s weakness is that Toyota tried to go at the market dominated by American trucks by representing itself as something that it is definitely not; that is, American. And by doing that they went against everything that has given them success in the past, and let’s face it, they have sold a lot of cars by stating both implicitly and explicitly that they are not American cars. They were trying to sell the Tundra on styling aimed at American truck buyers, and bragging about how BIG everything is, and although that BIG talk gets customers that “want” a truck feeling warm and tingly inside, there has to be the substance behind it for when those same customers “need” a big tough truck. Cosmetics don’t do you much good when you’ve got a trailer that’s overloaded, peculiar sounds are coming from the frame of your expensive truck, and you’re 25 miles from your destination. A flashy dash isn’t going to help you pull your buddy’s broken-down truck out of the mud. And a junk motor in your $40,000 truck is just going to ruin your day, week and month. In just one example of how Toyota fell down with the Tundra, I ask, why do you need brakes that could stop a semi when smaller and more cost-efficient brakes will do the job just as well? When you have a fleet of 20 work trucks, you go through brakes like crazy, and nobody wants to pay more for maintenance then they have to – you can’t get out of the Toyota dealership with a brake job for your Tundra for the cost of a comparable domestic.
Toyota’s Texas-Sized Tundra Belt Buckle
Now, Toyota will surely regroup after the early disappointment of the Tundra. They’re a good company, and that’s what good companies do when they run into problems. And, really, you can’t fault them for imitating the market approach that has worked so well for the domestic truck manufacturers. But shame on them for thinking it would be so easily done. What they’ve accomplished to date is foster the perception in the truck-buyers’ market that their trucks are just not good enough for the discerning buyer. Paradoxically, this is how the buyers of Toyota cars generally think of American cars. It is somewhat weird to think about, but the Japanese truck has now somehow become the American car in the marketplace, in terms of perception.
Now, had they decided on a more evolutionary path from the previous Tundra and perfected its flaws, perhaps the new Tundra would be something worth higher praise. While the previous Tundra wasn’t up to speed with the domestic full-size offerings, it at least had that high-quality Toyota appeal.
This is Toyota’s biggest failure for the simple fact that it is their biggest effort that went terribly wrong. As I alluded to in the title, the Tundra’s advertising tag line is “The Truck That’s Changing It All”, and you know the people at Toyota have to be hoping that the thing that doesn’t get changed by the Tundra is Toyota’s reputation for quality. That would be changing the wrong thing, without a doubt.
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