Why Insurgents Love The Toyota Hilux

On the occasion of the death of Osama bin Laden, we thought we’d revisit the relationship between Toyota’s Hilux pickup and varoius insurgencies around the world.  We originally published this piece in October 2010.

By Chris Haak

Newsweek published an interesting piece recently that explored why it seems that the Toyota Hilux pickup has appeared as the insurgent vehicle of choice in nearly every guerrilla war over the past 40-plus years. The article contends that a few factors can be attributed to the little truck’s popularity:

  • Reputation/brand recognition
  • Popularity, which makes finding replacement parts and doing repairs easy
  • Durability
  • Ground clearance
  • Maneuverability

The US Military’s Humvee checks off some of those boxes, but certainly not maneuverability. The Humvee is just too heavy and too wide; at 85 inches wide, that’s just over 7 feet. A Hilux through the 2005 model year was no more than 65 or 66 inches wide. When you’re an insurgent making your way through narrow, undeveloped trails, twenty inches makes a huge difference in terms of maneuverability.

After experiencing a number of troops’ fatalities in Humvees attacked by insurgents, the US military has decided that the un-armored Humvees are not strong enough against IEDs. Rather than coming up with something smaller and more maneuverable, the military instead first added hundreds of pounds of armor, which taxed the Humvee’s suspension and wheezing diesel engine, while raising its center of gravity. Up-armored Humvees require more maintenance, wear out faster, flip over more readily, and sometimes trap their occupants after a crash.

Perhaps even worse, the answer to the Humvee’s shortcomings is likely to come in the form of the even larger, heavier, and more-armored Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), which at a glance, seems to be a cross between a Humvee and an armored personnel carrier.

There have been some examples of US forces (in particular, special forces) using a Toyota Hilux (or the related Tacoma) when battling insurgents in Afghanistan. It makes one wonder whether it’s time to revisit the utility and effectivness of the original Willys Jeep that was one of the most successful (and prolific) weapons in winning World War II. Jeeps could go nearly anywhere, were easy to fix, and used only a small amount of fuel. Unfortunately, they were little better than a horse in terms of protecting soldiers’ lives, with their open windshield/roof/door design.

I’m sitting behind a computer and not putting my life on the line to protect my country’s freedom. If I were out in the battlefields of Afghanistan, I’d probably want the safest vehicle available. But perhaps our opponents hiding in caves may be onto something with small, maneuverable, inexpensive, and easy-to-fix trucks rather than giant tank-like vehicles designed to check off too many boxes on the spec sheet.

Be sure to check out the interesting Newsweek article linked at the beginning of this piece for more examples of the Hilux as a weapon-of-choice for insurgents around the globe, for decades.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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