After a three-year absence, the Toyota Land Cruiser is back. But it’s not just an update of the old model. During a media event in Salt Lake City on Tuesday night, the Japanese automaker revealed an SUV that is smaller, less expensive — and which uses a more fuel-efficient hybrid engine.
The redesigned Land Cruiser comes along at a significant moment. Americans by the millions have started going off-road and the competition in the segment has grown fierce. There are even some all-new brands like Volkswagen’s Scout, and sub-brands like Ford’s revived Bronco.
With a base price in the mid-$50,000 range, Toyota is betting the “more affordable” 2024 Land Cruiser will be “more accessible” to mainstream buyers than the old one that could push toward $100,000. Or so says David Christ, the general manager of the Toyota brand.
Christ has a long history with the automaker, joining it in 1994. His immediate prior role had him serving as the head of its Lexus brand. Christ, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, and his MBA from the University of Maryland, spoke to TheDetroitBureau.com at the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum in Salt Lake City. He sat down with TheDetroitBureau.com after the debut of the model. (Editor’s note: this story has been edited for clarity and length.)
TheDetroitBureau: The Land Cruiser was off the market in the U.S. for three years. During the reveal in Salt Lake City you said Toyota listened to customers and brought it back. When was the decision made, and why?
Christ: When we sold the 200 Series (the Land Cruiser dropped in 2021), the vehicle had gone up in and price and content over the years. We really felt like we wanted to bring it back to its origins, back to its roots. We were able to do that through a lot of collaborative work with TMC (Toyota Motor Corp.) and our partners in Japan.
TDB: So, you were already working up this new model even before dropping the old Land Cruiser?
Christ: The production cycle takes years and we made a decision to have a lapse while we worked on the new Land Cruiser. Making it more accessible and making it electrified were two priorities. We were hopeful we could bring this one to market in the mid-$50,000 range, which is pretty exceptional. The 200 Series became sort of a luxury vehicle and almost overlapped with the Lexus (LX 500). The 200 Series was a great product but this one will be more accessible and we’ll be able to add another electrified car to our portfolio.
Getting charged up
TDB: Are you considering additional electrified variations? Is this new Land Cruiser designed to allow it be made all-electric?
Christ: Yeah, we’re always looking at our portfolio and making those decisions. We don’t have any of those things in the plan right now. We’re just excited to launch this product right now.
TDB: We’re seeing a number of competitors electrify their off-road vehicles, whether conventional or plug-in hybrids, or going fully electric as Jeep and Scout plan to do.
Christ: We’re very proud of our electrification program which began in 1997 with the Prius. Last month, 31% of the vehicles we sold in the U.S. were electrified. And with technology advances we’ve been able to get more horsepower and torque out of smaller displacements with hybrid engines. This vehicle is a great example, with 326 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. That’s a lot of power out of a small displacement. And torque is a huge, huge need in the off-road community, smooth torque at the very low end.
Timing is everything
TDB: The Land Cruiser returns at a very interesting time. When the SUV boom began, with products like the original Toyota RAV4, the focus was on “cute utes,” really car-like crossovers. Lately, we’re seeing a lot more classic SUVs. And we’re even seeing new brands, like Volkswagen’s Scout is bringing back, as well as sub-brands, like Subaru Wilderness.
Christ: We’re really committed to our body-on-frame architecture. We launched the (completely redesigned, more off-road-ready) Sequoia two years ago, and it’s been extremely successful. We followed with Tundra and Tacoma, which are built on similar platforms. Now, we’re coming with the Land Cruiser. So, we’re fully committed to the off-road market. For those who want to go out on an adventure, we have a lot of vehicles to choose from.
TDB: The bottom line seems to be that this off-road community is really growing, isn’t it?
Christ: There’s no doubt that the COVID situation, where people couldn’t commune with one another, pushed people outdoors and there was a huge movement towards camping and other outdoor recreational activities.
TDB: And that’s what you’re hoping the 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser can connect with?
Christ: The Land Cruiser has a long heritage dating back to 1958 in the U.S. It’s been around for a long time and we’re going to keep it around for a long time.
TDB: You initially have three distinct versions — okay, four with the limited-run First Edition. Will we see more variants follow?
Christ: We’re really excited to launch the ones we have now and I think we have our work cut out for us with those. That’s why it was so important to connect with its heritage.