The New Tundra: Changing Toyota’s Reputation?

Change isn’t always good…

By Patrick Hoey

06.20.2007

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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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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12 Comments

  1. How can the engines be failing already since they just started selling the Tundra a little while ago? The engines can’t have too many miles on them at this point. It’s hard to believe that Toyota would make an engine that would fail so quickly. I don’t think the problem is that Toyota tried to out-muscle the American trucks, I think the problem is the engine failures.

  2. Hey, don’t be hatin’ on Toyota. One mistake, big deal. They still have the strongest product line of any car company in the world.

  3. One mistake, then two, then three, where does it end? Can anyone at Toyota honestly say that there aren’t some more problems lurking in other models? Toyota’s quality has really gone down lately, so where is the end to the quality issues?

  4. I could compare a bit the launching of the Tundra with Chrysler’s 2nd-gen of the “Forward look” models for Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Imperial, Chrysler.

    I read an article on the magazine Collectible Automobile writed by auto historian Jeffrey Godshall in the June 2007 about the 2nd-gen of Chrysler “Forward Look” styled by Virgil Exner for the 1957 models. Sure it taked the competition with a big surprise, forcing GM to be back for the drawing board for the 1959 models (who was originally simple reharsh of the 1958 models) but as the article mentionned, some of these cars turned into pumkins to some customers. It mentionned then these ’57 was originally planned for 1958 and Chrysler tried too fast too soon.

    And the little parallel with the Tundra, maybe the original plans for Toyota was as a 2008 model year for the Fall but not to be outdone by the competition, they rushed it for a January intro to steal the show from the Chevy Silverado but it rushed it a bit too fast.

  5. Zipdriver- I dont think it’s faulting Toyota because they made a mistake, I am faulting them because it was intended to be the most important and planned launch of their history..and it’s been a dud so far.

    54eon45- The engines are not faulting from wear and tear..they are faulting because there was a crack in the casting that went unnoticed. It just shows how the slightest of errors can be of great damage down the road.

  6. As if this really matters in the big picture, huh? Any excuse to jump on Toyota because they’re so good at what they do. I’m sure most of these people that are so gleeful about this temporary problem are fans of one of the BIG 3 trucks, and they are happy to have anything bad on Toyota. Face it, Toyota will correct this, your products will still be lousy, and sooner or later, probably sooner, your Big 3 will be out of business. Or maybe Toyota will buy one of them and use it as one of their lines, like Scion or Lexus. After they fix everything that’s wrong with them, that is.

  7. Toyota will never buy Ford or GM because they’re not good companies and they make crappy cars. It doesn’t get any more simple than that. Why would Toyota want anything GM or Ford makes? Even the best stuff they have is still bad.

  8. rising sun son, be careful about what you wish for, imagine in 20 years, with no GM and Ford, come to think of it, Renault, Peugeot-Citroen, Fiat, VW joined them lefting a oligopoly situation to Toyota and Honda….

    and one reason then Toyota would buy Ford or GM is the same reason why Microsoft buyed a small stake in Apple in the late 1990s, to avoid their collapse and being in the situation then Microsoft was, with antitrust and all http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_Microsoft_antitrust_case
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Microsoft However, another possibility is to avoid the emergence of a new rival who wants to create a new auto empire just like the “car tzar” Carlos Ghosn once attempted in 2006 (a nice idea on paper but it’s another thing on reality)

  9. Toyota makes cars that rarely have problems but they’re so boring they make you want to kill yourself. Is that a good trade-off? Toyotas are not only dull, they cause dullness in others.

  10. This is mounting evidence that Toyota is starting to slip.

    Lone Dangler: You said that Toyota would never buy GM because the products GM makes stink. Why don’t we just go ahead and compare a Silverado and a Tundra. How about a Sequoia and a Yukon. The domestics get better mileage, are better looking, and are all around better autos. Your domestic hatred is silly.

    These trucks continue the trend, on top of sludge problems, Prius recalls, and then some.

  11. Wow! Toyota has a mishap and they overnight new engines to the dealers to fix. But does anyone remember the issues with Ford’s big bad 6.0L diesel? They even ended up in federal court over that. The camshaft thing was a hiccup and quickly fixed. The big 3 only quickly try to cover up. All this buzz is generated by fear of Toyota finally dominating the truck market like they have the car market. Even with the 05/05 model being under powered, they sold 125k units. Watch out big 3 Toyota and Nissan are coming.

  12. In less than 10 years, GMC and Chevrolet Trucks will be a nameplate of Toyota Trucks after Toyota buys the brands during GM’s bankruptcy proceedings. Just face it, when Toyota decides to own a market, that’s what happens, however long it takes.

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