Toyota is ready to go big with small pickups.
Its Tacoma has topped the sales charts for the past decade, and is on track to break last year’s record of 179,526 sold. This despite the fact that it’s been facing strong competition from the recently introduced Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, which have already stolen 100,000 customers this year.
Perhaps stolen isn’t the right word. Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz says the GM twins haven’t put a dent in Toyota's business, and that it can sell every Tacoma it builds. The current supply sits at around 15 days, which is nothing in the automotive industry, and used Tacomas have the highest resale value of any vehicle, according to Kelly Blue Book.
To help satisfy this seemingly insatiable demand, Lentz has already cranked up production at Toyota’s truck factory in Texas, which is running six days a week, and is investing $150 million and adding a third shift at its Tijuana, Mexico, plant in 2018 that will allow it to build an additional 60,000 Tacomas a year.
Even with Ford expected to enter the segment with a new Ranger very soon, Lentz isn’t worried about creating a glut. He sees small pickup sales continuing to grow for many years to come, thanks in part to low gas prices and an increase in the number of “lifestyle” buyers entering the market who would never be interested in a full-size truck. If anything, he thinks it’s the big truck sales that are likely to soften up at some point, and since Toyota builds the full size Tundra alongside the Tacoma in Texas, adjusting the volume of each is relatively easy.
But while he’s busy trying to maximize the profits he can generate from the limited number of Tacomas he’s able to build, there are no plans to push the model into the luxury realm the way Toyota and its competitors have in the full size segment. He says its active customers are more interested in the high performance TRD-type models, not $75,000 leather-lined cruisers.
And don’t go looking for anything smaller than the Tacoma in Toyota showrooms anytime soon, either. Although it has made Corolla-based pickups, and several other automakers offer similar vehicles in other countries, Lentz says a recent study that Toyota did found that Americans today just aren’t interested in a truck that tiny.
Small ones? They just can’t get enough.
But Toyota is trying.
Toyota Tacoma Test Drive:
Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.