Adding fuel to a simmering midsize truck market, Toyota confirms it will unveil an all-new version of its aging Tacoma pickup at the Detroit Auto Show next month.
The next-gen 2016 Toyota Tacoma will be unveiled along with two new models from the maker’s upscale Lexus division, said Bon Carter, the maker’s senior vice president pf automotive operations in North America. Toyota has been racing to get the new Tacoma ready for battle with a new line of offerings from General Motors, including the Chevrolet Colorado.
Thinly disguised versions of the next Tacoma have been spotted undergoing testing in North America in recent months. As with the bigger Toyota Tundra, designers and engineers in the U.S. had a significant role in the development of the midsize truck, although it is being geared for sale in markets around the world, while Tundra is primarily focused on a State-side audience.
The current Tacoma is one of the oldest vehicles in its segment – but it’s also one of the only remaining models. Two decades ago, midsize trucks routinely outsold full-size pickups, demand peaking at over 2 million a year. But sales have shifted to the larger trucks and have settled to barely 200,000 annually in recent years as competitors, including Ford, Chrysler and Honda, have dropped out of the segment.
The Tacoma is currently the midsize best-seller, but sales fell to 140,757 for the first 11 months of the year, a 4.1% year-over-year decline.
Nonetheless, some industry analysts are convinced there could be a market resurgence, especially if new and better products come to showrooms. General Motors took that risk with the launch of its new 2015 Chevy Colorado and near-twin GMC Canyon models. The maker decided to shift focus, however, developing vehicles that put less emphasis on rock-bottom pricing than with the older Colorado and Canyon trucks dropped several years earlier.
The 2015 pickups are more stylish and well-equipped. They do deliver better mileage, but use new powertrains that make less of a trade-off between power and performance and fuel economy.
The fact that the Chevy Colorado was named Motor Trend Truck of the Year honors could give it yet more momentum, according to some industry observers.
(How did the Colorado win the Truck shoot-out? Click Here for the story.)
While operations chief Carter declined to discuss details, the new Toyota Tacoma is expected to adopt a similar approach when it comes to market next year, with production reportedly set to begin in April. The current model is being built both in Mexico and at a truck factory in San Antonio, Texas.
Along with Nissan, the only other maker currently in the midsize pickup segment, Toyota has steadfastly refused to walk away from the segment. In part, that’s because midsize trucks were critical to the early success of the brand as it began to grow rapidly in the 1960s and ‘70s, noted Toyota division General Manager Bill Fay.
Small trucks “have become part of our DNA here in North America,” he said during a media gathering in Detroit.
“I think the category should grow some and I think with us being kind of the dominant player in that category right now I think we will benefit from it,” Fay added.
General Motors is clearly intent on displacing Toyota as the dominant player, however. And it has more surprises in store for its own new midsize trucks. A high-mileage diesel will be added to the powertrain option list in the coming year – though that strategy could be impacted by the recent plunge in fuel prices. Meanwhile, the Chevy brand showed a ruggedized off-road concept based on the Colorado, dubbed the ZR2, at the recent Los Angeles Auto Show. It could soon bring out a production version.
Nissan would also like to take a run at Toyota and is developing a next-gen Frontier pickup due out in a couple years. But Nissan will target the full-size segment at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show with the unveiling of an all-new version of its big Titan truck.
(Click Here for more on the next-generation Nissan Titan pickup.)
For their part, Ford officials have said they don’t intend to re-enter the midsize pickup segment. But they also note they have a model, dubbed Ranger, sold in many global markets that could be adapted to U.S. requirements should the midsize market rebound significantly.
Chrysler has offered conflicting remarks about its own plans, but industry insiders believe a replacement for the old Dodge Dakota will reach U.S. showrooms within a couple years, this time under the Ram badge.
Even the South Koreans, who have been studying the idea of a midsize truck entry for years, are said to be dusting off old design sketches looking at options to enter the market if sales forecasts continue to turn upwards.
(Plunging gas prices fueling a surge in pickup sales. Click Herefor the story.)