Toyota Tundra stays course for 2014

“Proven.” The word echoes through the McCormick Center at the Chicago auto show, where Toyota introduced its new 2014 Tundra full-size pickup truck on 7 February.

The Tundra retains the basic, flexible architecture that made it beloved of boulevard cruisers, but a laughing stock among buyers who expect their pickup trucks to do heavy work.

The word can make a person wince; in automotive circles it is a euphemism for “old”. But the 2014 Tundra, a truck that garnered less than 7% market share in 2012 in the US and Canada, is returning with refreshed sheetmetal, a more luxurious interior and the same “proven” engines that powered the undesired trucks of 2012.

The Tundra retains the basic, flexible architecture that made it beloved of boulevard cruisers, but a laughing stock among buyers who expect their pickup trucks to do heavy work. On Thursday, Toyota marketers were left to tout the likes of “patented aerodynamic stabilizer fins” on the outside of the taillight lenses.

“These patented ‘Aero-Fins’ reduce the air turbulence along the sides of the vehicle, resulting in improved straight-line stability,” the company said in a statement.  This, from the company that arranged for the outgoing Tundra to tow the Endeavour space shuttle – the mind reels.

In the wake of a refreshed Ram 1500 that was named 2012 North American Truck of the Year, as well as General Motors’ onslaught of new pickups at the Detroit show in January – not to forget Ford’s burly Atlas concept truck – Toyota’s rebuttal is, essentially, more of the same. This may not be sound strategy for a company already hard-pressed to explain to buyers why they should switch brands and dealers.

Rather than improve a flawed product, the company has applied little more than what is derisively referred to in the motorcycle industry as “BNG – Bold New Graphics”.

In fairness, there is new sheetmetal , but it is “new” in the sense of a mid-cycle refresh. (The new truck would “redefine ‘chiseled’”, Toyota boasted in a Tweet before the press conference.)

Under the hood, the same 4-litre V6 engine with 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, mated to the same 5-speed automatic transmission, remain for the base powertrain configuration. Optional equipment are the holdover 4.6-litre V8 producing 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque, and the 5.7-litre V8 rated at 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque.  Six-speed automatic transmissions are standard on the V8s.

The status-quo thinking at Toyota is surprising, given Ford sells fuel-efficient EcoBoost V6s and Ram has an 8-speed automatic transmission. The Tundra, in turn, offers re-tuned shock valving to improve ride quality over harsh surfaces – not exactly on par with Ram’s independent rear suspension.

Recognising the beefy margins available at the top of the pickup food chain, Toyota will offer what it calls the 1794 Edition, poised to compete with the likes of Ford’s F-150 King Ranch. The Toyota’s name references a ranch near San Antonio, Texas, where Toyota builds a number of Tundras . Naturally, it includes soft leather seats, suede accents, seat heaters and an earth-shaking JBL sound system.

The Tundra does innovate with some safety technologies that are increasingly common among passenger cars but that had yet to migrate to trucks, including blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts. These features should especially appeal to the personal-use truck buyers, the company says. You remember them – those same North American customers who fled back to cars during the Recession.

Look for the 2014 Tundra to arrive in US and Canadian showrooms in September, at prices to be announced. Keen eyes, however, will simply look at the 2013 model; the truck is already more or less there.