With the redesigned 2022 Toyota Tundra about to enter showrooms, TheDetroitBureau.com sat down with Kevin Hunter, president of CALTY, about the new pickup truck’s design. The 2022 Tundra faces a highly competitive market segment, one where Toyotas is a distant fourth to Chevrolet, Ram and Ford.
Here’s what Hunter had to say. Note: the interview has been edited for length.
The Detroit Bureau: Until this point, there’s been a lot of timidity in your full-size truck designs. Why is that?
Kevin Hunter: I think with the big minor change that we did, I don’t know, maybe 10 years ago, we made the decision that we needed to be a lot more chiseled in our design, more structured and less organic and soft looking. So we started down that path and we had really good reaction because we design that truck at CALTY also; that was our project. And even though we didn’t change much hardware wise, with that big minor change, the sales went up based on styling alone. So, we thought we were on the right path and we needed to amp up even more, because our customers want to tote bigger things, heavier thing, carry heavier things. So in order to do that, we need a truck that really reflected that kind of performance. Nobody wants a wimpy truck on the boat ramp or hauling their camper into a camp. You want to look solid, strong and capable and that’s part of the whole attitude of driving a truck.
TDB: In approaching the design for the new Toyota Tundra, what was your overall thought? How did you approach it differently? What did you do the same?
KH: What didn’t change is our direction. Our customers like to have fun with their trucks and we look at it more as a lifestyle truck, not just something for working and hauling. So that was really a big foundation for us. Beyond that, this has to be a next generation truck and a big leap forward because we started with a new platform. Everything is new on this truck so we knew we needed to take a huge step in overall boldness and strength. The size really isn’t any bigger, but the massing, the sculpture, the three-dimensional aspect of this truck is way beyond where the current truck is.
So, when we were designing the platform, we looked at things like how much offset can we get from the bodyline to the beltline, because that’s going to determine a lot of the strength we can get to create this bold, athletic-looking body design. So, we worked a lot with engineering to ensure we had those kinds of offsets in place to get big wheel flares. The cowl position is another area that we looked at and moved it rearward, so now we’ve got a longer hood than the current generation Tundra. And I think that just speaks to creating a powerful silhouette and also sets up the hood to look really strong too.
TDB: Being more a recreational truck than a work truck, how does that affect the design?
KH: We like to think of it as looking more dynamic and more active. Some of our competitors tend to have a flatter or slab-sided, extruded kind of look. We wanted Tundra to be active and fluid in three dimensions, 360 degrees around the truck. So that was a big step for us.
TDB: How hard is it to unsee the current form language in the full-size pickup market? It must be incredibly difficult to go in a unique direction.
KH: That’s a really great question and one that we started talking about early on, because the overall full-size market is a bit conservative. You don’t want to have to be explaining why your truck looks like a spaceship, and there’s some fundamentals that we think are important to compete in the core truck segment. We identify those as authenticity, powerful and capable. In general terms, if the mass is not correct, then we can’t even be in that segment. So, I think there are some entry points for that segment that we have to we have to meet from a styling point of view, and a proportion point of view, which we do and I’ll admit all trucks have that. That’s the segment. But from there, we break away with our brand identity. What’s Toyota’s identity? What’s our heritage? What’s our design language that we’re pursuing? And that’s how we’re different from our competitors.
TDB: Being that this platform replaces three former platforms, did that impede the design given its use in international markets?
KH: There were challenges up front, because it’s part of TNGA system. So, we had to think carefully about what kind of seating positions we could achieve. We wanted to get the seating, the hip point, and the eye point up as high as we could, and that was a bit of a challenge. We went through a lot of different package iterations with engineering and the platform team to try to arrive at a good solution that would put the cowl in the right position, give us the proper front-end mass that would function well in the full-size truck segment.
TDB: How come you didn’t do any kind of trick tailgate feature?
KH: Mainly it’s because our customers use our trucks for hauling simple things like bikes and ATVs. We’re going after a recreation market, not a work market. So we just looked at the value we thought it would provide to our customer and made the decision that the way they’re using it, as a simple fundamental tailgate, would work well for them.
TDB: It’s interesting that you paid attention to the aerodynamics of the truck’s rear bumper caps. Few automakers do on pickups, a vehicle with not a lot of aerodynamics.
KH: Well, that was one area that we targeted early on with our design, and I actually thought that was going to be a monumental challenge to do because of the way bumpers are on full size trucks, the way they’re attached to the frame and everything going on with the sensors back there. But surprisingly it was one of the least headaches we encountered from a design point of view. We heard no pushback on it engineers to get it.
TDB: The interlocking headlights are a pretty complicated piece of design.
KH: If you don’t handle corners with the right radius or bevels, they can get a little bit fragile looking, and again, we wanted the lighting unit to be impressive and look like it’s well locked into the body, the same as the tail light. In the tailgate, we wanted them to look like they’ve just been plugged in from the rear and that they’re locked solid into the rear quarter panels.
TDB: It’s interesting that inside, the center of the instrument panel mimics the grille’s shape.
KH: Well, the front grille has our brand identity, this kind of hex grille. And we took some of those beveled corners and took some of that language into the interior. So, this kind of beveling or hex language we wanted to carry into the interior, into the air vents and the way that they are interlocked into the instrument panel. We wanted to pull this interlocked language into this new Tundra because interlocked things look strong. They look unbreakable. We wanted to carry that same interlocked thinking into the interior with double corners and hex shapes.
TDB: Given the ruggedness of the design, it’s surprising how well the 1790 model is at being a posh city truck.
KH: What we wanted to do with the premium grades is create an overall high-quality trim first. We knew that some of those parts were going to be carried over into the core grades. Sometimes, we start designing the core grade first. We set our expectations a little low for where we need to end up. So we wanted to start high, so that the structure, the architecture looked high quality, looked premium, thinking that when it trickles down to the core grade there’s a fundamental form language going on with proportions. Even though you’re going to have less stitches, less wrapped material, it still feels high quality. And I think it worked.
TDB: When designing the high grades first, do you end up using a high-end material you might not otherwise use in a low grade?
KH: It depends. There’s always cost trade off. When we when we design these kinds of trucks, they have a lot of great variation, so it can happen. One example is the premium grades have just a big wrapped solid surface in front of the passenger. Whereas on the SR-5, there’s a little shelf storage shelf built into that. So, okay, maybe it’s not going to have wrapped surface, but we added a feature that would be useful to that customer who wants a more fundamental truck for their purpose and what they’re doing.
TDB: How has this truck affected say the next generation of Tacoma; how it looks and how you’re approaching that from a design standpoint?
KH: The only thing I’ll say is that starting from scratch with a brand-new truck, we had a chance to reset Toyota’s truck identity. And we’re going to take advantage of that. So, there’s going to be, I think, good linkage between Tundra and Tacoma. When you see those two trucks together, there’s no question that those are Toyota trucks, no doubt at all.
TDB: You know, the Tundra’s new platform would make for a great Sequoia; it’d a bit long in the tooth.
KH: It would be it would be a natural fit. But you’re right, it’s overdue and I will say this, it will — it would — make a great Sequoia.